Doctors skeptical about airborne transmission of coronavirus

Kwak Sung-sun  Published 2020.02.11  17:34  Updated 2020.02.11 17:34


Physicians currently treating confirmed patients of the new coronavirus have expressed negative views about the possibility of airborne contagion, according to the Central Clinical Task Force at National Medical Center.

At the task force’s fifth conference, 20 experts from 10 institutions also discussed each institution’s therapeutic opinion, discharging standard, antiviral drug usage criteria, systematic collection of clinical data, method of cooperative study, and holding regular briefings to deliver quick, precise information without causing chaos in public.

Concerns have been mounting in Korea about the possibility of airborne infection as the confirmed patients rose to 135 aboard a Japanese cruise ship named Diamond Princess.

"The possibility of airborne infection has always been an issue because the two respiratory infection routes -- droplet and airborne transmission -- are not entirely exclusive from each other and having some overlapping aspects,” the task force said in a press release.

“The aerosol droplets are generally small with less than 5 micrometers and light so that they can travel through the air to cause infection. However, particles larger than that are too heavy to fly more than two meters and cause transmission,” it added.

The debate on the airborne transmission is likely to continue because various factors such as the direction of the wind, density of the virus, and survival time of the virus in the air can influence the infection.

"We cannot conclude the airborne transmission in the Diamond Princess due to strong possibilities of droplet infection as well as direct or indirect contact among the people packed in a limited space," it noted. "So far, only four diseases -- measles, tuberculosis, smallpox, and chickenpox – that have been proved to be airborne."

The participants also discussed discharging criteria related to patient number 11 who was released from the Seoul National University Hospital. The current standard is equal to that of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome -- to show negative responses to two consecutive tests taken after 48 hours from improvement in symptoms.

The 11th patient, a family member of patient six, left the hospital on Monday after showing negative responses to the tests taken last Friday.

The task force is also drawing consensus on antiviral treatment and expects to reach an agreement in a few days.

Currently, the first considered treatment is Kaletra, an AIDS drug, and either Chloroquine or Hydroxychloroquine, a malaria drug. Other options are Ribavirin and interferon, but they are not recommended in the first line because of lots of side effects.

"We have confirmed some cases of full recovery only with their immune system, but are examining to use antiviral treatments on the elderly, people with chronic diseases, and severe cases,” it said.

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