Coronavirus death toll has now climbed to 13,729 in the UK, with the Department of Health announcing a further 861 deaths over the last 24 hours. Efforts to trace the movements of the virus are complicated by the fact that broad swathes of the population may be asymptomatic, meaning they may have the infection without showing symptoms. While health authorities haven’t been able to confirm how many people in the UK are asymptomatic yet, Dr Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said as many as one in four coronavirus patients in the US could be.
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It has not yet been understood how the virus spreads in this manner because the obvious route of transmission is through coughing or sneezing.
A new study sheds light on one possible route of transmission, however.
According to research led by scientists at the University of California, Davis, normal speech by individuals who are asymptomatic but infected with coronavirus may produce enough aerosolised particles to transmit the infection.
The study does not communicate the extent to which the virus can be shed through this channel but it does emphasise the importance of adhering to the lockdown measures.
According to William Ristenpart, professor of chemical engineering at UC Davis and co-author of a soon-to-be-published editorial on the study, aerosols are particles small enough to travel through the air.
Ordinary speech creates significant quantities of aerosols from respiratory particles, he said.
Last year, Ristenpart, graduate student Sima Asadi and colleagues published a paper showing that the louder one speaks, the more particles are emitted and that some individuals are “superemitters” who give off up to 10 times as many particles as others.
The reasons for this are not yet clear. In a follow-up study published in January in PLOS One, they investigated which speech sounds are associated with the most particles.
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Calculating just how easily a virus like SARS-CoV-2 spreads through droplets requires a multi-disciplinary effort, noted the study authors.
From virology, researchers need to know how many viruses are in lung fluids, how easily they form into droplets and how many viruses are needed to start an infection.
According to the researchers, aerosol scientists can study how far droplets travel once expelled, how they are affected by air motion in a room and how fast they settle out due to gravity.
“The aerosol science community needs to step up and tackle the current challenge presented by COVID-19, and also help better prepare us for inevitable future pandemics,” Ristenpart and colleagues concluded.
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Can I take steps to reduce the rate of transmission?
The most important measure enforced by the government is to stay at home to help stop the spread of coronavirus.
According to the NHS, you should only leave your home for very limited purposes:
- Shopping for basic necessities, for example food and medicine, which must be as infrequent as possible
- One form of exercise a day, for example a run, walk, or cycle – alone or with members of your household
- Any medical need, including to donate blood, avoid or escape risk of injury or harm, or to provide care or to help a vulnerable person
Travelling for work purposes, but only where you cannot work from home.
“These reasons are exceptions – even when doing these activities, you should be minimising time spent outside of the home and ensuring you are two metres apart from anyone outside of your household,” explains the health site.
There are things you can do at home to help reduce the risk of you and anyone you live with getting ill with coronavirus.
One of the most important measures is to wash your hands with soap and water often – do this for at least 20 seconds, says the NHS.
Other key hygiene tips include:
- Use hand sanitiser gel if soap and water are not available
- Wash your hands as soon as you get home
- Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when you cough or sneeze
- Put used tissues in the bin immediately and wash your hands afterwards
“Do not touch your eyes, nose or mouth if your hands are not clean,” warns the health body.
What is the current risk level in the UK?
According to Public Health England (PHE), the UK risk level is currently classed as high.
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