Omicron variant, how much it really resists in the environment

Omicron variant, how much it really resists in the environment

Omicron seems to last longer on surfaces, including the epidermis. What are the countermeasures to protect us

As always, since the Covid-19 pandemic began, we cannot speak of certainties written in stone. But in this phase characterized by the rapid and extremely contagious spread of the Omicron variant, which is taking the place of Delta and Delta plus dominant until a few weeks ago, one wonders why a viral strain can get to disperse in environments with such efficiency.

And this is the question that some studies are trying to answer, which however confirm the importance of spacing and the use of masks. And there are important news, which increase knowledge in this area. Always remembering that we must always protect ourselves and that the vaccine, even if it cannot completely avoid the risk of contracting the infection, represents a very effective defense demonstrated by research against serious illness and the risk of hospitalization (even in intensive care) or death.

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We wait to shake hands

First of all, let’s calm down. Omicron also responds like the other variants to the disinfection strategies normally used in closed environments. So let’s remember once more how attention to cleaning hands and common areas, with effective detergents and disinfectants, allows us to defend ourselves. But we must not forget that in any case the possible permanence of the virus in this recent mutation could represent an element capable of explaining, at least in part and in conjunction with its biological characteristics, its high diffusion capacity.

This is hypothesized by a research conducted in Japan, also under observation by the evaluators and therefore only present on the BioRxiv sharing platform. The study examined the ability of different viral variants to “resist” in environments and on different surfaces, obviously including Omicron.

The investigation made it possible to demonstrate that the Omicron strain could resist longer, even for almost eight days (obviously in the absence of countermeasures) on plastics. This is a sort of record compared to all previous variants, which, however, have been shown to remain potentially infectious for shorter times on the surfaces themselves. Similarly, even on the skin, Omicron could last for almost a whole day.

For this reason, among the measures that should still be taken, there is a call to personal hygiene, often using hand washing and the use of skin disinfectants, with one more recommendation. For the moment it is not yet convenient to let yourself go to excessive effusions and the classic handshake. There is always the risk, as happens with many types of viruses starting from those for colds, that a person completely unconsciously can also transmit the virus with a simple contact of the epidermis and consequent passage to the mucous membranes of the upper respiratory tract.

And let’s keep our distance

Moreover, an Italian research shows that there is a link between the emission of a known viral load of an infected subject and the relative concentrations of Sars-CoV-2 in the air under controlled conditions. The experiments conducted, in addition to establishing that the SARS-CoV-2 virus is transmitted via aerosols well beyond the distances long considered “safe” (1-1.5 meters), also confirmed the influence exerted by the type of respiratory activity with respect to the emission of viral aerosols and the consequent diffusion in the environment: as already anticipated by previous studies, the emissions during phonation (the production of sounds or noises by means of the vocal organs) are of an order of magnitude higher than the simple breathing activity.

To say this is a research that appeared in the Journal of Hazardous Materials, the result of the collaboration between Arpa Piemonte and the University of Turin on the one hand and the University of Cassino and Southern Lazio and the Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane. The experimental results provided by Arpa Piemonte also validated a new predictive theoretical approach aimed at modeling the concentration of the virus in an indoor environment starting from the emissions of infected people and the ventilation characteristics of the environment.

On the basis of this modeling tool, it is possible to build coherent policies in the management of indoor environments and in the determination of control measures to reduce the risk of infection (for example by calculating the maximum occupancy of indoor environments and the maximum duration of occupation).

“This study finally fills a knowledge gap about Sars-CoV-2 transmission with solid experimental evidence that resolves a controversial issue – underlines David Lembo, Director of the Molecular Virology Laboratory of the University of Turin. the virus can be transmitted by air in closed environments and not only through droplets. A success of the Italian research that will make it possible to apply the methods developed also to the study of other known respiratory viruses and to those that could arise in the future “.

Possible countermeasures? According to Giorgio Buonanno of the University of Cassino and Southern Lazio, unfortunately “surgical masks, spacing and vaccines are not sufficient to prevent the spread of the infection, as the Omicron variant has further demonstrated. But there are valid technical-engineering countermeasures: ventilation, emission reduction, management of exposure times and crowding can mitigate the risk of infection. We are able to secure the air, regardless of the variants, as has already been done with water “.

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