SCIENTISTS in Italy have detected coronavirus on particles of air pollution and are now investigating whether the virus can be carried over longer distances and increase the number of people infected.
The Italian scientists identified a gene highly specific to Covid-19 in multiple outdoor air pollution samples they had collected.
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The study, conducted at the University of Bologna in Italy, used outdoor air pollution samples from one urban and one industrial site in the Bergamo province.
It was in those samples that they found the gene specific to the deadly virus.
According to the Guardian, the work is preliminary and it is not yet known if the virus remains viable on pollution particles and in sufficient quantity to cause disease.
Leonardo Setti, who led the work, said it was important to investigate if the virus could be carried more widely by air pollution.
He said: "I am a scientist and I am worried when I don’t know. If we know, we can find a solution. But if we don’t know, we can only suffer the consequences."
Part of Mr Setti's analysis suggests that higher levels of pollution could explain higher rates of infection in parts of northern Italy before the lockdown was implemented.
The north of Italy is one of the most polluted areas in Europe.
Previous studies have shown that air pollution particles carry microbes and that pollution is likely to have carried viruses causes bird flu or foot-and-mouth over distances.
Researchers say that airborne transmission of the virus through pollution particles must not be ruled out without evidence.
Prof Jonathan Reid at Bristol University in the UK is researching airborne transmission of the virus.
About the study, he said: "It is perhaps not surprising that while suspended in air, the small droplets could combine with background urban particles and be carried around.”
He told the Guardian that the virus had been detected in tiny droplets collected indoors in China.
Prof John Sodeau at University College Cork, in the Republic of Ireland, said: “The work seems plausible. "But that is the bottom line at the moment, and plausible [particle] interactions are not always biologically viable and may have no effect in the atmosphere."
Prof Sodeau said that the normal course of this research might take two or three years to confirm.
Italy still remains the third most affected country in the world from coronavirus.
So far the number of cases stands at 192,994 with over 25,000 of those resulted in death.
The number of new daily cases continues to fall as the country enters its fourth month dealing with the pandemic.
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