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Dust holds genetic material from the coronavirus

Part of the genetic material that makes up the coronavirus can persist in dust for up to a month, according to a new study from Ohio State University. The study was conducted in rooms where COVID-19 patients had been isolated.

Study senior author Professor Karen Dannemiller has extensively studied dust and its relationship to Dust could be used to monitor COVID-19 outbreaks hazards like mold and microbes.

“When the pandemic started, we really wanted to find a way that we could help contribute knowledge that might help mitigate this crisis,” said Professor Dannemiller. “And we’ve spent so much time studying dust and flooring that we knew how to test it.”

While some of the genetic material was found to be persistent in dust, the spiked sphere that contains the virus’s material is believed to potentially break down over time. The weakening of this sphere, known as the envelope, would make the virus less contractible.

The researchers did not investigate whether the virus is transmittable to humans thug dust, but the study does confirm that dust could be used to monitor COVID-19 outbreaks in specific buildings, including nursing homes, offices, or schools.

“In nursing homes, for example, you’re still going to need to know how COVID is spreading inside the building,” said study lead author Nicole Renninger. “For surveillance purposes, you need to know if you are picking up an outbreak that’s going on right now.”

For their investigation, the research team worked with the crews that cleaned the rooms at Ohio State where students were quarantined after testing positive for COVID-19. The experts collected dust samples from the rooms, as well as from two homes that had recently housed COVID-19 patients.

The researchers also tested swabs that were collected from surfaces in the rooms. The study revealed that genetic material from the coronavirus was present in 97 percent of the dust samples and in 55 percent of the surface swabs.

Prior to cleaning and collecting dust samples, the cleaning crews sprayed a chlorine-based disinfectant. The researchers believe that the disinfectant destroyed the envelope, which likely decrease the potency of the virus. 

The samples collected from the rooms were tested right away and then weekly. Even after four weeks,  the virus’s RNA did not significantly decay in the vacuum bags.

“We weren’t sure that the genetic material would survive – there are many different organisms in dust, and we weren’t sure we’d see any viral RNA at all,” said Renninger. “And we were surprised when we found that the actual RNA itself seems to be lasting a pretty long time.”

According to Dannemiller, testing dust to monitor for COVID-19 outbreaks would likely be most useful for smaller-scale communities with a high-risk population such as nursing homes.

“We wanted to demonstrate that dust could be complementary to wastewater for surveillance,” said Professor Dannemiller. “Wastewater is great for a large population, but not everybody sheds the virus in feces, and you have to collect wastewater samples, which not everyone wants to do. People are already vacuuming these rooms, so dust may be a good option for some groups.”

The study is published in the journal mSystems.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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