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How, exactly, does Covid-19 spread?

How, exactly, does Covid-19 spread?

How, Exactly, Does Covid-19 spread?


The virus that causes Covid-19 has infected more than 276,000 people since its emergence. (Of them, at least 11,417 have died.) That’s just the confirmed cases.



Why has it spread so fast? “The best explanation for this rapid spread is that the virus is being passed through droplets from coughing or sneezing,” Vox’s Julia Belluz explains. “When these virus-laden droplets from an infected person reach the nose, eyes, or mouth of another, they can transmit the disease.”



But it’s still unknown how significant other modes of transmission are in spreading the disease.

It’s possible that the virus can spread through feces. (The CDC says, though, “the risk is expected to be low based on data from previous outbreaks of related coronaviruses.” But if you weren’t already washing your hands vigorously after defecating, please do so now.)



You may have heard that the new coronavirus isn’t “airborne” — meaning that unlike extremely contagious diseases like measles, it’s unlikely to linger in the air for hours on end. But that doesn’t mean the virus can’t linger in the air for some amount of time.




As Wired explains, although some experts say the new coronavirus isn’t airborne, that’s based on a narrow scientific definition of the term. The virus can possibly still linger in the air for some time and under some conditions. As the journal Stat reports, we don’t yet know precisely what those conditions are. It will definitely be in the air in the moments after an infected person sneezes or coughs, but it’s unclear when the particles eventually come to rest on the ground or surrounding surfaces.

“The studies suggesting that this virus can be aerosolized. i.e linger as small particles in the air are only preliminary, and other research contradicts it, finding no aerosolized coronavirus particles in the hospital rooms of Covid-19 patients,” Stat reports. More research is needed.




So all three transmission routes — droplets, airborne, and fecal — are still possible contributors to the spread of the virus. “Almost certainly, one of these is probably the predominant one, and the others might be minor modes of transmission, but we don’t really understand this,” Hotez says. Some good news is that scientists are figuring out how long the virus can live on some surfaces. Here’s the latest:

It’s around three days for plastic and steel,

about a day for cardboard,

and less than a day for copper.

This information helps direct sanitation efforts to where they are needed most.

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