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CSIR study to explore possibility of airborne transmission of coronavirus

The study is an attempt to explore the possibility of airborne transmission of coronavirus, Dr Shekhar Mande, director general of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), told The Indian Express.

Written by Anuradha Mascarenhas | Pune | August 7, 2020 1:37:14 am
The study comes close on the heels of a letter that was sent by 239 scientists from 32 countries to the World Health Organisation (WHO) about the mounting evidence the airborne route plays in the transmission of Covid-19. (Mauricio Palos/Bloomberg)

In a first-of-its-kind study, air samples from intensive care units, hospital corridors, waiting rooms and places where healthcare workers are most at risk will be collected and investigated to understand whether airborne transmission is contributing to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The study is an attempt to explore the possibility of airborne transmission of coronavirus, Dr Shekhar Mande, director general of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), told The Indian Express.

The study comes close on the heels of a letter that was sent by 239 scientists from 32 countries to the World Health Organisation (WHO) about the mounting evidence the airborne route plays in the transmission of Covid-19.

The scientists had sent their letter based on studies which indicated that there was significant potential for inhalation exposure to viruses in microscopic respiratory droplets (microdroplets) at short to medium distance. This means that it can travel in droplets of smaller size in less than five micron, so that it remains hanging in the air for longer than the bigger droplet that settles down in a few minutes. The WHO has long held that coronavirus is spread primarily by large respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

“I am not a signatory to the letter but have posted it on the CSIR website. I believe we need to explore the possibility and if we say it is not airborne, then need to prove it otherwise,” said Dr Mande. In his blog post, the CSIR chief had referred to the findings of various studies and said that the emerging pieces of evidence and arguments suggest that airborne transmission of SARS-COV-2 is a possibility.

“There will be multiple samples that will be collected on several days. Two CSIR institutes will be involved in the study – Institute of Microbial Technology at Chandigarh and Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Hyderabad. This is being done as we want to ensure that there are matching results,” said Dr Mande.

“The aim is to check whether the virus remains suspended in the aerosols and if so, for how long. We want to understand whether people are really at risk while waiting at hospital corridors or in the waiting rooms,” said Dr Mande.

Dr Rakesh Mishra, director of CCMB, told The Indian Express that initially, some 300-400 air samples will be collected from locations involving healthcare workers and 100 data points. “We need to assess whether these locations… make the healthcare workers vulnerable . The aim of the study is to see if there is real danger and if so, to what extent specially for healthcare workers,” said Dr Mishra.

Subsequently, a few select locations like banks will be selected to measure the load of the virus in the air .

Scientists said that they will use air samplers with filters that can suck the air. These are hand-held machines where the air passes through the filter and the virus particles get stuck on it. These filters are then removed and sent to the laboratory to estimate the viral load. “We will need several filters as each will have to be replaced while collecting a new sample,” said Dr Mishra.

Sepsivac trials on Covid-19 patients nearing conclusion

Strategies to beat the novel coronavirus has prompted the CSIR to repurpose existing drugs. Trials using one such candidate, Sepsivac – a commercial drug used to treat patients with gram-negative sepsis — is nearing completion. The first trial in 40 critically-ill Covid-19 patients using the intra-venous drug has been completed at PGI , Chandigarh, and the results are awaited, said Dr Mande.

The second trial on about 500 asymptomatic persons, who were close contacts of Covid-19 patients, is underway while the third trial is also underway on a large number of hospitalised patients who are not critically ill, said Dr Mande.

“If the results are encouraging, we may seek approval of the Drug Controller and General of India to conduct trials on a larger group of people. The remaining trials are underway at AIIMS New Delhi and AIIMS Bhopal,” he said.

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