US researchers have found out that tiny droplets of saliva sprayed into the air while speaking may be enough to spread the novel coronavirus. Scientists at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) conducted a study on the impact of fine droplets released in the air by a person infected by the virus as the United States is witnessing an exponential rise in the number of coronavirus cases.
The researchers, in their preliminary study, found that saying the words “Stay Healthy” generates thousands of droplets that are otherwise invisible to the naked eye. For this purpose, they used a planar beam of laser light passing through a dust-free enclosure to detect saliva droplets emitted during the speech.
According to the study, the droplets emitted while speaking were much smaller than the other those released while coughing or sneezing but were sufficiently large to carry a variety of respiratory pathogens including the measles virus, influenza virus, and Mycobacterium tuberculosis.
The researchers asserted that the droplet emission while speaking could be a significant factor driving virus transmission since the majority of COVID-19 cases are related to asymptomatic transmission. They added that saliva has peak viral loads at the time of patient presentation which warrants further study
“If speaking and oral fluid viral load proves to be a major mechanism of SARS-CoV-2 transmission, wearing any kind of cloth mouth cover in public by every person, as well as strict adherence to social distancing and handwashing, could significantly decrease the transmission rate and thereby contain the pandemic until a vaccine becomes available,” the researchers wrote.
The study has been neither certified by peer review nor published by the NIH but the preliminary findings suggest important implications for the pandemic mitigation efforts. The findings are bound to fuel the debate around the importance of wearing masks in public places since the World Health Organisation (WHO) which has maintained that there has not been any evidence of masks preventing people from infections like COVID-19.
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