Airborne spread of infectious SARS-CoV-2: Moving forward using lessons from SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV

Priscilla Gomes da Silva, Maria São José Nascimento, Ruben R G Soares, Sofia I V Sousa, João R Mesquita
Science of the Total Environment 2020 October 8, : 142802

BACKGROUND: Although an increasing body of data reports the detection of SARS-CoV-2 RNA in air, this does not correlate to the presence of infectious viruses, thus not evaluating the risk for airborne COVID-19. Hence there is a marked knowledge gap that requires urgent attention. Therefore, in this systematic review, viability/stability of airborne SARS-CoV-2, SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV viruses is discussed.

METHODS: A systematic literature review was performed on PubMed/MEDLINE, Web of Science and Scopus to assess the stability and viability of SARS-CoV, MERS-CoV and SARS-CoV-2 on air samples.

RESULTS AND DISCUSSION: The initial search identified 27 articles. Following screening of titles and abstracts and removing duplicates, 11 articles were considered relevant. Temperatures ranging from 20 °C to 25 °C and relative humidity ranging from 40% to 50% were reported to have a protective effect on viral viability for airborne SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV. As no data is yet available on the conditions influencing viability for airborne SARS-CoV-2, and given the genetic similarity to SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV, one could extrapolate that the same conditions would apply. Nonetheless, the effect of these conditions seems to be residual considering the increasing number of cases in the south of USA, Brazil and India, where high temperatures and humidities have been observed.

CONCLUSION: Higher temperatures and high relative humidity can have a modest effect on SARS-CoV-2 viability in the environment, as reported in previous studies to this date. However, these studies are experimental, and do not support the fact that the virus has efficiently spread in the tropical regions of the globe, with other transmission routes such as the contact and droplet ones probably being responsible for the majority of cases reported in these regions, along with other factors such as human mobility patterns and contact rates. Further studies are needed to investigate the extent of aerosol transmission of SARS-CoV-2 as this would have important implications for public health and infection-control policies.

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