Amid claims of downplaying, the World Health Organization (WHO) updated its COVID-19 guidelines confirming that airborne transmission is possible.
In its newest guideline, the World Health Organization has now declared that airborne transmission of SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19 disease) through particles known as aerosols is possible.
The update was announced following a call from a group of scientists claiming that the organization is downplaying the risk of airborne transmission.
WHO clears COVID-19 airborne transmission claim
As per the new guidance, WHO says that airborne transmission “cannot be simply ruled out” in crowded, indoor locations with poor ventilation.
Airborne transmission or the spread of a specific virus—coronavirus, particularly—through aerosols has been a long-debated topic in the medical community. It means that the virus can linger and hover in the air after being contaminated by an infected person.
Previously, the organization said that transmission through the air is only feasible in a hospital setting, emphasizing critical procedures such as intubation for patients that are COVID-19 positive.
However, outbreaks that occurred in an indoor setup with poor ventilation like fitness studios, churches, and restaurants suggest that airborne transmission could have played a role, according to WHO.
Still, the organization stands that other forms of spreading—specifically through contaminated surfaces and larger droplets made by coughing and sneezing—play a massive role in the said outbreaks.
Scientists claim WHO downplays risk of air transmission
In a report first published by The New York Times, a group of 239 medical experts argued that the World Health Organization downplays the factor that coronavirus can spread through the air. With that, the group demanded the institution to give more weight to the possible role of airborne transmission.
In a paper published by the Oxford Academic, the scientists wrote:
“There is significant potential for inhalation exposure to viruses in microscopic respiratory droplets at short to medium distances (up to several meters, or room-scale), and we are advocating for the use of preventive measures to mitigate this route of airborne transmission.”
The said paper is titled “It Is Time to Address Airborne Transmission of COVID-19.” In the article, the signatories argued that they have shown “beyond any reasonable doubt” that viruses linger in the air and “risk of exposure at distances beyond one to two meters from an infected person” is possible.
The scientists also said that based on their studies, “airborne transmission was the most likely mechanism,” which explains the “spatial pattern” of contagion.
However, despite the recent changes made, WHO remains at its previous stance that COVID-19 disease spreads mainly via droplet transmission, which is released every time an infected person coughs and sneezes.
Images courtesy of Oxford University Press for the Infectious Diseases Society of America, T_Watanabe/Pixabay