COVID-19 ISO Insights

Study: 'Aerosolized Fomites' Such as Dust May be Able to Spread Influenza

August 31, 2020

By: Christopher Sirota, CPCU

The ISO Emerging Issues team has been monitoring various COVID-19 virus studies that examine the potential for the virus to travel and perhaps linger in the air.

Now, COVID-19 virus researchers may need to examine something else floating in the air: dust.

EurekAlert has reported that researchers were surprised to discover that dust can carry a viral influenza virus, a type of coronavirus.

According to the article, experts previously believed that influenza is generally transmitted from person to person either via saliva and mucus droplets expelled from the mouth that remain airborne, such as during a cough, or via similar droplets of expectoration that land on an object such as a faucet handle, and are subsequently touched by another person.

Objects that can support the transmission of a virus such as a door handle or a faucet are known as fomites.

Fomites that Float on Air: Dust and Microfibers

Now, per the article, researchers have identified the potential for viral particles of influenza virus to travel through the air on dust and remain infectious. The researchers are calling such infectious dust particles "aerosolized fomites."

The study utilized guinea pigs in a lab to identify this additional pathway of airborne transmission; virus-contaminated dust particles from their hair apparently were able to contaminate other guinea pigs.

The researchers also reportedly confirmed that this form of transmission may be possible from the microscopic fibers released from crumpled facial tissue paper that had been previously contaminated with influenza virus; the researchers were reportedly able to infect cells using these microfibers.

The article notes that different types of coronaviruses may take similar or different pathways, so more research may be needed to understand if aerosolized fomite transmission would also apply to SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus which causes COVID-19.