(HealthDay)—Face masks can help prevent the spread of COVID-19 among folks trapped in a room with an infected “super spreader,” a new Swiss study claims.
But a severely infected person who’s coughing frequently can fill a poorly ventilated room with as many as 7.4 million copies of the coronavirus for every cubic meter of air, according to researchers Michael Riediker and Dai-Hua Tsai, from the Swiss Centre for Occupational and Environmental Health in Winterthur.
“The implications of these findings for everyday life and the workplace are that individuals may be at risk of infection if they spend more than a few minutes in a small room with a person who is infected with COVID-19 and has a high viral load,” Riediker and Tsai concluded.
The study also “highlights the importance of wearing a mask,” said Dr. Aaron Glatt, chair of medicine and chief of infectious diseases at Mount Sinai South Nassau. “Wearing a mask clearly helps, and it will diminish the capacity of these super spreaders to spread as much.”
For this study, the Swiss researchers gathered data from a handful of prior studies that tracked how much coronavirus the average infected person will emit by breathing normally, as well as the virus released by a very sick person who’s coughing frequently.
The team then used a mathematical model to estimate how much virus either a low- or high-emitting patient is likely to release into the air of a closed room.
A COVID-19 patient with a high viral load could be expected to release a large amount of virus into the air, especially when they are coughing,