Another tool in the pandemic toolkit

The existential risks associated with global warming include coastal flooding, loss of fresh water, desertification, life-threatening temperatures and loss of ocean fisheries. Another risk is the spread of infectious diseases that are normally restricted to tropical latitudes. While the prospect of eliminating insect vectors such as Aedes and Anopheles mosquitoes, tsetse flies and triatomine bugs using CRISPR gene drives offers some hope, viruses and other parasites are notoriously resourceful and able to adapt to new hosts.

One of the lessons of the COVID-19 pandemic was how resourceful humans are in resisting behaviors that will protect themselves and others from infection, disability and death. Protection in the form of social distancing and vaccines was fervently resisted by people who preferred their personal beliefs over scientific data. “Herd immunity” was a panacea promoted by many. Yes, herd immunity worked to constrain the spread of the plague in the middle ages, but at the cost of a third to a half of the population, and when the next generation grew up, herd immunity disappeared and another epidemic ensued.

A recent proof-of-principle study offers another route to community protection that could bypass human superstition and selfishness. Real-time air monitoring in enclosed spaces (hospitals, restaurants, lecture and concert halls, indoor sports stadiums) could detect various respiratory viruses, including the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19, and trigger increased airflow or circulation to dilute and/or filter the pathogen to protect people without requiring masking, social distancing or vaccine certification.

“There is nothing at the moment that tells us how safe a room is,” Cirrito said. “If you are in a room with 100 people, you don’t want to find out five days later whether you could be sick or not. The idea with this device is that you can know essentially in real time, or every 5 minutes, if there is a live virus in the air.”

Read the rest here: Air monitor can detect COVID-19 virus variants in about five minutes