Can pollen in the air help spread the virus?

Researchers at the University of Nicosia in Cyprus modeled the spread of pollen from a willow tree through a nearby crowd of people, each standing at least 2 meters apart, at a wind speed of 4 kilometers per hour. The model simulated the movement of 10,000 individual pollen grains through groups of 11 or 97 people about 20 meters from the tree.

Scientists found that the largest crowd of people temporarily trapped the flow of air and the pollen it carried. This would have the effect of increasing the potential contact between the pollen grains and the tiny droplets of saliva generated when people talk, cough, etc. “People should avoid crowd gatherings near certain types of plants or trees known to be very active in releasing pollen grains during a pollination season,” Professor Drikakis told Medical News Today.

The researchers point out that the saliva droplets are relatively heavy and evaporate quickly, while the pollen grains contain little water, are lighter and can travel tens of kilometers. “The public should be aware of the risks of aerial transmission of indoor and outdoor saliva droplets and the dangers resulting from pollen grains suspended in the air outdoors,” he added.

Talib Dbouk, Ph.D., and Dimitris Drikakis, Ph.D., from the university’s Defense and Security Research Institute, conducted the study, which was published in the journal Physics of Fluids . Assuming the virus could hitchhike on pollen grains, the results suggest that the pollen could carry the virus from person to person in the crowd.

Scientists were inspired to conduct their study after noticing correlations between high concentrations of willow and white willow pollen in the air in the United States in March-May 2020 and rates of SARS-CoV infection. -2. He said the safe physical distance to minimize pollen transmission would vary depending on environmental conditions.

However, when scientists in Leipzig, Germany analyzed pollen from local air samples and performed laboratory tests on purified pollen, they found no evidence that the pollen could carry or transmit SARS- CoV-2. Susanne Dunker, Ph.D., of the Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research in Leipzig, who led the research, said they were unable to completely rule out the possibility that pollen could transmit SARS-CoV -2. Other research has linked pollen levels to the transmission of SARS-CoV-2. A study published in March 2021 found that pollen concentrations in the air in 31 countries around the world accounted for 44% of the variability in SARS-CoV-2 infection rates.

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