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It is a question that has bothered large groups of experts and laypeople since the beginning of the corona crisis: can the coronavirus spread through aerosols, small drops of moisture in the air? And if so, in which social situations does this happen, and during which medical procedures? Researcher Mariëtte Lokate of the department of medical microbiology & infection prevention of the University Medical Center Groningen (UMCG) has received 25. 000 euros from the COVID-19 Programme “Science for practice” of grantor ZonMW to investigate this. She is collaborating with the University of Twente.

For her research, Lokate investigates people who have been tested positive for the coronavirus. With a microbiological air sampler, she can measure the air in the room after someone has talked, coughed, or sneezed, for example. “The air sampler sucks in air. The smallest particles in that air end up in a liquid, which we then test for the presence of the coronavirus,” says Lokate. 

If virus particles are indeed present, then a procedure follows which shows whether or not it is a living virus. Lokate: “A next step can be to investigate how much live virus is in the small droplets of moisture, and whether they can transmit a coronavirus infection.”

Medical procedures

In addition, she will investigate the possible spread of the coronavirus via aerosols during medical procedures. “We will focus, among other things, on distribution around patients who require non-invasive respiratory support, such as support with oxygen goggles, an oxygen mask, or CPAP. We would like to know if corona patients in need of respiratory support are more likely to spread the virus through small droplets of moisture in the air. This is important for nurses and doctors to know. To this end, we are also going to carry out tests in medical rooms, where the air is regularly refreshed.”

Lokate expects she will be able to publish the results of her research in December.