Learn about the latest COVID-19 update: WHO officially defines airborne spread

Flowers are left at the U.K.'s National COVID Memorial Wall, on the south bank of the river Thames in London, Thursday, March 14, 2024.(AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali)

“**Clearing the Air: WHO Defines Airborne Disease Transmission**

In a groundbreaking move, the World Health Organization (WHO) and a consortium of 500 experts have come together to establish a clear definition of what it means for a disease to spread through the air. This crucial step aims to avoid the confusion that plagued the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, potentially costing lives.

**Defining Airborne Transmission**

The WHO’s technical document released recently states that the descriptor “through the air” can apply to infectious diseases where transmission primarily occurs through air-borne pathogens or suspended particles. This clarification is essential for understanding diseases like measles and preparing for future pandemics.

**Expert Consensus and Past Controversies**

Nearly 500 experts from various fields, including physicists, public health professionals, and engineers, collaborated to establish this definition. In the past, disagreements over whether infectious particles were “droplets” or “aerosols” hindered progress. However, the new definition moves away from this distinction based on size.

During the initial stages of the COVID-19 crisis, over 200 aerosol scientists criticized the WHO for not emphasizing the risk of airborne transmission sooner. This led to a focus on handwashing over ventilation strategies, potentially impacting the spread of the virus.

**Looking Ahead**

The WHO’s new definition of airborne transmission extends beyond COVID-19 and will pave the way for crucial discussions on ventilation in various settings, including hospitals and schools. Jeremy Farrar, the successor to the WHO’s chief scientist involved in establishing the definition, emphasizes the importance of reaching a consensus among experts from all disciplines.

Farrar draws parallels to the past realization that blood-borne viruses could be transmitted through medical procedures without gloves. Just as medical practices evolved with the agreed-upon terminology, understanding airborne transmission can shape future prevention strategies.

As we navigate the ongoing challenges of infectious diseases, this landmark agreement on airborne transmission serves as a reminder of the importance of shared understanding and proactive measures. By learning from past experiences and embracing scientific consensus, we can better prepare for future health crises.”

This revised article presents the WHO’s efforts to define airborne disease transmission in a comprehensive and engaging manner, capturing the significance of this development and its implications for public health.



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