India is resolutely continuing with the vaccination drive against the dreaded coronavirus, but the dangers of contracting the virus have not dissipated completely in the minds of people including those fully vaccinated.
So far, nearly 9.28 crore or 8.8% of the population has been fully vaccinated. However, ever since research has advanced that the virus can be airborne and therefore transmitted through the air - a finding accepted and corroborated by top health organisations including the WHO - the fear factor has only intensified further. I
In a country and environment where air pollution and air quality has already been a recurring and dominant public health narrative, the airborne nature of the virus coming to the fore compounds people's woes even further.
As a result, while observing COVID-appropriate protocols and behaviour, the need to breathe clean sanitised air even after having been inoculated can't be overstated. And for accessing clean sanitised air especially in indoor settings, one would invariably need air purification systems.
Also Read: COVID-19 is airborne, acknowledges US CDC
Aerosols can cause long-range transmission of the virus through the air
Unlike the earlier impression that the virus could spread only through being in physical contact in any way, direct or indirect, with an infected person's saliva, respiratory secretions or respiratory droplets, or any of such material remaining behind on any surface, or object and another person coming in contact with that material, the proposition that the virus can be transmitted through aerosols in the air has now been conclusively established.
Indeed, aerosols being smaller and lighter than regular respiratory droplets not only remain longer in the air but also have been found to be capable of carrying the virus for longer distances through the air and for a longer duration.
So, transmission from inhaling aerosol particles coming away from an infected person can take place at a distance in excess of 6 feet and even after the originally infected person has left the place.
Ranging from 0.2 microns to 50 microns in size, these aerosols are said to carry SARS-CoV-2 viruses, which are themselves 0.12 microns wide.
Thus, the earlier assumption that the droplets being heavy couldn't travel more than two meters and therefore a transmission through the air was unlikely, does not hold good anymore.
In fact, making contact with a contaminated surface has a one in 10,000 chance of causing an infection, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Also Read: COVID-19 is airborne but doesn't mean outside air is contaminated; here's what it means
Transmission of SARS-CoV-2 is higher indoors than outdoors
Strikingly enough, according to research by The Lancet, one of the world's most respectable medical journals known for highly impactful academic output and value, the transmission of the coronavirus occurs higher in indoor settings than outdoors, a condition which can only be ameliorated by way of adequate ventilation and purification of indoor air. In fact, according to the same research when carried out in laboratory settings, the virus stayed infectious in the air for up to 3 hours with a half-life of 1·1 hours.
While not discounting the probability of virus transmission in the open, since outdoor spaces have continuous airflows with the moving air repeatedly scattering and diluting the aerosols, the virus and its damaging potency gets blunted and neutralised unlike in indoor spaces.
So, unless the internal spaces filled with stale and unhygienic air get ventilated repeatedly and adequately, or the indoor air is filtered, cleansed, and sanitised suitably with a high-efficiency air purification system with the best of filtration and purification technologies, the likelihood of respiratory residues of an infected person infecting another person remains fairly high. According to experts, the minimum air exchange standard for a safe indoor environment range between three to six times air changes per hour.
Ways in which the virus can spread in air-conditioning spaces
Typically, an unhygienic and polluted internal environment is a cocktail of high temperature and humidity, toxic and environmentally polluting products, and above all, as mentioned earlier, poor and insufficient ventilation.
In larger air-conditioned indoor spaces, the risk of virus transmission is higher as compared to other areas. This is due to the same air being circulated throughout the building exposing people to not only the COVID-19 virus but also other pollutants and harmful particles present in the air.
In these air-conditioned spaces, if not maintained properly (which usually is not), the AC becomes a breeding ground for viruses since they recirculate the same air back and forth keeping the indoor air quality fairly poor.
With the current outbreak of the virus, 'air sanitisation' is becoming a popular concept. 'Air sanitisation' is a straightforward concept where viruses, bacteria, germs and particulate matter (PM2.5) from the indoor air are absorbed into a device that kills these pollutants within the system and releases not just clean, but healthy air back into the room.
While it was always important, air sanitisation might become the new benchmark for all kinds of indoor spaces in the current circumstances.
Breakthrough infections always a possibility: Vaccination not a lifetime defence
So, it would be worthwhile to remember here that no vaccine offers a lifelong immunity against the virus. At the same time, none of the vaccines, of any kind, being given to people anywhere in the world can claim 100% efficacy implying that one is always susceptible to the virus again even after vaccination.
While some vaccines have given 100% protection against hospitalisation and death in clinical trials, they have certainly not insulated people against infection itself.
And that must be food for thought for those taking the jab or would have taken full dose of a vaccine. People will also do well to remember that the virus typically has varied impacts on different people.
So, a relatively an immune-compromised person with pre-existing comorbidities would still be highly vulnerable to the virus even after having been vaccinated.
And within an indoor space that has lack of sufficient ventilation, filtration and purification mechanisms and equipment in place, the former can again infect the latter despite both having taken their shots.
Then in some cases, vaccines are likely to impact an already infected person differently than those never infected. So, as different variants of the virus continue to emerge in different locations and geographies, breakthrough infections remain a possibility.
High-efficiency air purification systems need of the hour
Therefore, even after taking a full dose of the vaccine, people would need to continue to breathe clean sanitised air.
Since at the individual level, there is only so much that one can do for the outdoor air, the indoor air can be fixed by deploying high-quality air purification systems.
A system complete with ultraviolet germicidal irradiation technology, a filter with high MERV rating, ideally a MERV 13 filter along with air quality monitoring tools and displays becomes a good choice.
However, if there are next-generation filter-less air purification proprietary technology-based products known for particularly inactivating the coronavirus available, the choice becomes even easier.
On a separate note, household air pollution is also responsible for several non-communicable and life-threatening diseases such as stroke, ischemic heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and lung cancer. This must be an additional factor driving the purchase of an indoor air purification system post-vaccination, besides COVID-19.
(The author is Founder & CEO, Magneto CleanTech.)
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