The findings have obvious implications for coronavirus transmission

Sending influenza virus-containing droplets into the air through coughing and sneezing may not be the only way to spread respiratory diseases, according to a new study involving guinea pigs.

Some viruses like influenza may also spread by attaching to dust particles, according to a new study published in Nature Communications.

The study suggests that dust particles and small fibers on contaminated surfaces can be kicked up into the air and create aerosolized fomites, germ-laden particles, which may spread certain respiratory viruses like influenza, according to new research from the University of California, Davis and the Icahn School of Medicine at Mt. Sinai. The findings discussed viruses like influenza but have obvious implications for coronavirus transmission, according to multiple reports.

“Surprisingly, we find that an uninfected, virus-immune guinea pig whose body is contaminated with influenza virus can transmit the virus through the air to a susceptible partner in a separate cage,” lead author, Professor William Ristenpart of the UC Davis Department of Chemical Engineering, stated in the study.

Ristenpart stated in a report in Science Daily that “It’s really shocking to most virologists and epidemiologists that airborne dust, rather than expiratory droplets, can carry influenza virus capable of infecting animals.”

The professor also said in the report, “The implicit assumption is always that airborne transmission occurs because of respiratory droplets emitted by coughing, sneezing, or talking. Transmission via dust opens up whole new areas of investigation and has profound implications for how we interpret laboratory experiments as well as epidemiological investigations of outbreaks.”

In the guinea pig study, the researchers investigated if tiny, non-respiratory particles or aerosolized fomites, could carry influenza virus between guinea pigs.

Using an automated machine to count airborne particles the researchers found uninfected guinea pigs moving around a cage can release spikes up to 1,000 particles per second, according to the report.  The team of scientists also found guinea pigs immune to influenza with the virus painted on their fur transmitted the virus through the air to vulnerable guinea pigs. That revealed that the virus did not have to be expelled from the respiratory tract to be infectious, the report stated.

“We further demonstrate that aerosolized fomites can be generated from inanimate objects, such as by manually rubbing a paper tissue contaminated with influenza virus,” the researchers stated in another report.

Overall, the researchers stated that the data suggests aerosolized fomites may contribute to transmission of viruses like influenza in animal models, which could have important but understudied implications for public health in humans.