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Coronavirus: Cyprus scientists study indoor air for virus

Photo The Cyprus Institute

As coronavirus cases increase across Europe, researchers at the Climate and Atmosphere Research Centre (CARE-C) of The Cyprus Institute are developing new sampling and analytical techniques aimed at detecting the presence of the virus responsible for Covid-19 in the air that is breathed in within indoor atmospheric environments.

The initiative follows increasing warnings from many in the scientific community there is growing evidence of airborne transmission of coronavirus, something which has also been recognised as a risk by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

“The ultimate aim of these activities is the timely identification and development of new, practical solutions for monitoring and detecting SARS-CoV-2 in the air to help the fight against Covid-19,” the Cyprus Institute said.

The research initiatives focus on supporting hospitals and front-line professionals, and the general public.

“Airborne transmission involves tiny virus-containing droplets (aerosols) that can remain suspended in the air for several hours within indoor environments. These aerosols, less than five microns in diametre, may contain large amounts of virus copies, and can penetrate the human respiratory track more efficiently compared to larger droplets. This can have wide implications for the transmission of the virus in indoor environments, particularly in busy public spaces such as restaurants and bars where wearing a mask is not mandatory,” the institute added.

To address these concerns, CARE-C has secured funding from national and international bodies for two new projects.

One of them is CURE-SARS which aims to help clinicians in the fight against Covid-19 by providing technical solutions to identify the presence of SARS-CoV-2 in indoor medical environments, specifically hospitals and intensive care units (ICUs), and to improve knowledge regarding the potential spread of the virus.

“The primary aim of CURE-SARS is to inform health professionals working in ICU or hospital clinics on whether their operating protocol puts them in danger and in this way help protect them from unnecessary exposure. Through the project, we also aim to add new knowledge concerning coronavirus, by identifying the size distribution of the virus while airborne, an important information to be considered by public health organisations and epidemiologists when proposing mitigation measures against SARS-CoV-2,” coordinator of CURE-SARS, Dr Michael Pikridas commented.

The second project is Air-Covid-Network, developing and testing the potential of a network of sampling points for the monitoring and timely detection of SARS-CoV-2 in the air within busy indoor public spaces such as airports, shops and restaurants that routinely integrate exhaled aerosols from tens to hundreds of individuals within the span of a few hours.

“Continuous monitoring of the air has the potential of quickly alerting us to risks of local contamination, and can enable the taking of targeted and timely mitigation actions such as lockdowns and disinfections to geolocate the presence of new emerging infectious clusters and contain the large-scale spreading of the virus. Networks have already demonstrated their potential to detect airborne viruses within crowded, indoor environments, but to the best of our knowledge, we are the first to test the potential of such a network in relation to the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus,” Jean Sciare, director of CARE-C and coordinator of the Air-Covid-Network project added.

The projects are co-financed by the European Regional Development Fund and the Republic of Cyprus through the Research and Innovation Foundation. Air-Covid-Network has also received funding from Agence Universitaire de la Francophonie (AUF).

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