The work is still preliminary, and it is not known if the virus remains viable in these pollution particles and if the number of them would be enough to infect people.
"We can confirm that we have reasonably demonstrated the presence of Sars-Cov-2 RNA by detecting the highly specific RtDr gene," write the researchers in the summary of the work. The detection was confirmed by an independent laboratory,
A statistical analysis by the team suggests that higher levels of pollution may explain higher infection rates in northern Italy before the quarantine was imposed. The region is one of the most polluted in Europe.
When a person coughs or sneezes, droplets of saliva from the person travel a meter or two before falling to the ground. But even smaller droplets, 5 micrometers in diameter, can remain in the air for minutes or hours and travel even further.
“I'm a scientist and I'm worried when I don't know anything. If I know, I can find a solution. But if we don't know, we can only suffer the consequences ”, says Leonardo Setti.
Two other studies also looked at the connection between pollution and a higher infection rate in people with the coronavirus. [The Guardian]