The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says it mistakenly published guidance suggesting that the novel coronavirus spreads through the air.
‘A draft version of proposed changes to these recommendations was posted in error to the agency’s official website,’ the agency in a statement.
‘CDC is currently updating its recommendations regarding airborne transmission of SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19). Once this process has been completed, the update language will be posted.’
The World Health Organization (WHO) said it contacted the CDC earlier on Monday about the update.
During a news conference, Dr Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO’s health emergencies program, said the WHO had not seen ‘new evidence’ regarding airborne transmission and that it reached out to CDC to ‘better understand’ why the guidelines had changed.
It comes days after the CDC changed its controversial recommendations that people exposed to COVID-19 who are asymptomatic forego testing.
On Monday, the CDC it mistakenly published guidance several days ago suggesting that the novel coronavirus spreads through the air (file image)
Over the weekend, the CDC’s website had warned that airborne viruses ‘are among the most contagious and easily spread.’
Officials recommended the public use air purifiers use air purifiers to clean the air in indoor spaces, in addition to wearing masks, washing hands, and isolating if ill.
The virus is spread through ‘respiratory droplets or small particles, such as those in aerosols, produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes, sings, talks, or breathes,’ the guidance posted on Friday stated.
These particles can be inhaled and ‘this is thought to be the main way the virus spreads.’
However, this wording was gone by Monday and morning and replaced with a statement that the new guidance was published ‘prematurely.’
The move comes after the World Health Organization changed its own guidelines in July to acknowledge that it ‘is possible’ to become infected by airborne transmission.
However, both the CDC and WHO still say that close and prolonged contact with an infected person is the most common way that the disease spreads.
A growing body of scientific evidence suggests that the virus can survive in the air on much smaller droplets that are expelled even when a person breathes.
Because the droplets are so small they do not fall to the floor right away, and instead linger in the air where they can be breathed in by others.
The fact that the droplets linger also means they can drift further than six feet away from an infected person, potentially passing the disease along to someone who was never in close contact with them.
Measles and tuberculosis can be spread via aerosols, and are considered highly infectious.
Wearing masks helps to prevent against airborne diseases – with world governments now increasingly adopting such measures as the science changes.
The WHO changed its guidance after 239 scientists in 32 countries wrote to the UN agency asking it to acknowledge the growing evidence the virus is airborne.
One professor who signed the paper said there will be concern to label the virus airborne because it may cause panic.
Benedetta Allegranzi, the WHO’s technical lead for infection prevention and control, acknowledged at the time that evidence of airborne transmission was emerging -but that it still needed to be carefully studied.
‘The possibility of airborne transmission in public settings – especially in very specific conditions, crowded, closed, poorly ventilated settings that have been described, cannot be ruled out,’ she said.
‘However, the evidence needs to be gathered and interpreted, and we continue to support this.’
Previously, CDC said the virus is spread through respiratory droplets and close contact, but that there may be evidence the virus is airborne. Pictured: CDC director Dr Robert Redfield pauses while speaking at a Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing on Friday
The novel coronaviruS was first detected in Wuhan, China, at the end of last year when it caused a cluster of infections centered around a seafood market.
Since then it has spread rapidly to almost every country, infecting more than 31 million people, according to a WHO tally.
The US is the world’s worst-hit country with 6.8 million infections, though India – with 5.4 million – has the world’s fastest-growing outbreak and is due to overtake America in the coming weeks.
Nearly one million people have died from the disease worldwide, according to official counts, though this is widely believed to be an under-estimate.
The US has also suffered almost 200,000 deaths from the virus which is by far the highest global total. The next-highest is Brazil, which has recorded 136,000 deaths.
Ongoing problems with testing, even in developed countries, means that, often, only patients with severe infections are able to have a diagnosis confirmed.
This is significant because many patients are thought to exhibit only mild symptoms or no symptoms at all.