Researchers: Millions of viruses sink to earth from the atmosphere

Doctors are discovering a new way of spreading viruses

When it comes to the spread of viruses, most people think of distribution channels such as droplet infections or contaminated surfaces, via which a so-called smear infection can be transmitted. However, researchers have now discovered that millions of viruses move in the earth's atmosphere. From there, they sink to the earth and infect new victims.

Scientists at the University of British Columbia, working with universities in Spain and the United States, found that millions of viruses are carried into the atmosphere of the earth. From there, the pathogens then sink back to earth unhindered and lead to new infections. The doctors published the results of their study in the English-language journal "Multidisciplinary Journal of Microbial Ecology".

A new way of transmitting viruses

Surely most people have experienced an infectious disease before. In such cases, the question often arises as to how or where they came into contact with the pathogen. Of course, in such a case, one usually thinks of a so-called droplet infection, which was triggered by an already infected person. However, the reason for this could also be an infection by viruses that have sunk down from our earth's atmosphere.

Why do genetically identical viruses appear at enormous distances from one another?

With some infections, the question arises how viruses can get from one end of the world to the other end of the world. According to current knowledge, the viruses are transported to the earth's atmosphere on so-called suspended organic particles in gas or air. There they move in gigantic clouds of microbes and then sink back down to earth through dust particles or with the rain. The results of the study could explain how genetically identical viruses can occur at enormous distances from one another, the scientists explain.

Millions of viruses enter the Earth's atmosphere every day

In their study, the researchers were able to quantify the number of viruses that enter the atmosphere from the ground for the first time. The number is huge and amounts to more than 800 million per square meter per day. While the viruses and bacteria cannot reach the heights of the stratosphere, they still reach far above the height at which the weather conditions prevail, the experts explain. At this altitude, which is also known as the troposphere, the viruses can then be transported thousands of kilometers before they finally sink back to the surface of the earth. Millions of viruses get from one place to another. Bacteria also move in this way, but in much smaller amounts, say the doctors.

Most of the viruses transported cannot infect humans

For example, if a large sandstorm arises in the Sahara, it can cause dust from the same storm to eventually reach the United States, the authors say. The viruses and bacteria could probably be transported even further. However, most of the viruses involved cannot infect humans. It is possible that human pathogens are transmitted in this way, but not in such large numbers. According to the researchers, most human pathogens do not survive such a journey through the atmosphere. If such viruses could be transported in large numbers, diseases would spread much more, the scientists explain. (as)

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