Scientists find indoor air pollution causes respiratory viruses to 'linger longer': 'This study represents a huge breakthrough in our understanding'

A new study has shed light on why opening a window may help limit the spread of respiratory viruses. The findings suggest human activities are causing a risk to public health.

What's happening?

A team led by the University of Bristol discovered that carbon dioxide causes airborne respiratory viruses to "linger longer" in indoor environments, as detailed by New Atlas.

However, when a window is open allowing fresh air to enter, the virus not only disperses, but it also "makes the aerosol droplets themselves more toxic to the virus," according to Allen Haddrell, lead and co-corresponding author of the study and senior research associate in Aerosol Science at Bristol's School of Chemistry.

"We knew SARS-CoV-2, like other viruses, spreads through the air we breathe. But this study represents a huge breakthrough in our understanding of exactly how and why that happens, and crucially, what can be done to stop it," Haddrell told the online platform.

The findings were published in the journal Nature Communications.

Why is this concerning?

Human activities are causing the levels of carbon in our atmosphere to rise. The study's findings suggest this could make it easier for respiratory diseases to spread, which would have significant consequences to public health.

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"These findings … have broader implications not only in our understanding of the transmission of respiratory viruses, but how changes in our environment may exacerbate the likelihood of future pandemics," Haddrell told New Atlas. "Data from our study suggests that rising levels of CO2 in the atmosphere may coincide with an increase in the transmissibility of other respiratory viruses by extending how long they remain infectious in the air."

Warming global temperatures have also been linked to an uptick in mosquito-borne diseases such as Zika, malaria, and dengue. In part, this is because mosquitoes have been able to reproduce more quickly and survive in new northern regions.

What can be done about this?

As far as the rising carbon levels are concerned, dirty fuels like coal, gas, and oil account for almost 90% of carbon pollution being released into our atmosphere.

National and local governments around the world are working to facilitate a shift to a clean energy grid and less polluting technologies. You can also contribute to a healthier future by reducing your use of single-use plastics and walking, biking, or taking public transportation when possible.

Additionally, until things are back in balance, it's important to note that there are tools to help fight many diseases and mitigate the effects of rising temperatures.

Medical advancements, like vaccines, have helped people live longer and healthier lives. According to the World Health Organization, vaccines alone have saved an estimated "equivalent of six lives every minute of every year" over the past half-century, with infants the primary beneficiaries.

The breakthroughs are still rolling in thanks to decades' worth of research and insight. Notable examples include the mRNA technology deployed to combat COVID-19 and the development of several malaria vaccines. In January, the world's first mass vaccination campaign against malaria began in the African nation of Cameroon.

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