All You Need To Know About COVID-19 Airborne Disease UPSC

All You Need To Know About COVID-19 Air Borne Disease


Exhaled breath of COVID-19 patients can contain novel coronavirus, study finds

      WHY IN NEWS:

According to the pre-print, breath emission rate was highest during the earlier stages of COVID-19

SYLLABUS COVERED: GS 3:Health:Diseases


For PRELIMS it is important to understand the transmission routes and the rates of transmission .

For MAINS go through the suggested reading and the articles down this article ! For now let us dive in .



World Health Organization indicated on July 9, but even breathing may spread novel coronavirus into the air.

All You Need To Know About COVID-19 Airborne Disease UPSC

Spreading fast: This adds to a body of evidence that suggests airborne transmission of the virus may play a role in virus spread. 


Preprints are yet to be peer-reviewed and published in a scientific journal.

  • MedRxiv labs have confirmed this.


  • A study published in Nature had earlier found airborne coronavirus in a patient’s breath.
  • A couple of more studies found airborne transmission of the virus during breathing and speaking.
  • A new study posted on July 2 in preprint server MedRxiv has again found virus spread while breathing.
  • The study adds to the existing body of evidence that suggests airborne transmission of the virus can play a role in virus spread.

The study found that breath contained the virus, “especially during the early stages of the disease”.


  • On July 9, WHO acknowledged that coronavirus can be airborne in closed settings that lack good ventilation.
  • It can spread from one person to another in such settings on prolonged exposure.

WHO classifies contact with contaminated surfaces as the second most common route of virus transmission.


  • EXHALING RATES : The study found that COVID-19 patients exhaled coronavirus into the air at an estimated rate of 1,000-1,00,000 RNA copies/minute.
  • VIRUS LEVELS : The authors write that the virus levels in exhaled breath could reach 1,00,000 to 1,00,00,000 copies per metre cube at an average breathing rate of 12 litres per minute.

This would mean that a COVID-19 patient can exhale millions of virus particles per hour.


  • EMISSION RATES : The emission rate of the virus was found to be influenced by a few factors such as disease stage, patient activity and, possibly, age.
  • HIGHEST VIRAL LOAD : They found that the SARS-CoV-2 breath emission rate into the air was the highest, up to 1,00,000 viruses per minute, during the earlier stages of COVID-19.

The virus emission was not found to be continuous or at the same rate, but was rather a “sporadic event”.


Of the 27 patients studied, they could detect the virus in the exhaled breath of five patients aged under 50.   

  • IN AIR : In these five patients, the emission rate in exhaled breath was 1,000-100,000 RNA copies/minute.
  • HANDS : While the hands of all the five patients did not have any virus.
  • PHONES : Two of 22 phone samples tested positive.
  • TOILET PITS : The toilet pit surface tested positive for virus in the case of one patient.
  • FLOOR : In all, 242 surface swab samples were collected and 13 tested positive for the virus.


  1. Toilet pits (16.7%, n = 12),
  2. Hospital floor (12.5%, n = 16),
  3. Other surfaces (7.4%, n = 27),
  4. Patient-touching surfaces (4.0%, n = 149), and
  5. Medical-touching surfaces (2.6%, n = 38).

No virus was found on handles.


  • VIRUS ENTRY ROUTES : Large respiratory droplets and direct contact with contaminated surfaces are currently considered dominant routes of virus spread.
  • LOW RISKS : But the present study has found that frequently touched surfaces like mobile phones have very low probability of virus presence.

      IASbhai WINDUP: 

  • The researchers collected exhaled breath condensate samples from 27 COVID-19 patients.
  • The time intervals from symptom onset to the sample collection were all less than 14 days.

Measures such as enhanced ventilation and the use of face masks are essential to minimise the risk of infection by airborne SARS-CoV-2.

     SOURCES:THE HINDU & PIB | COVID-19 Airborne Disease


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