Does air conditioning help spread the coronavirus? The Chinese study conducted on 3 infected families in a restaurant

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Carlos Laforet Coll
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A Chinese study claims air conditioning may help spread the coronavirus. 10 people were infected in this way at the restaurant

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Can air conditioning carry the coronavirus better by increasing the risk of being infected? According to a Chinese study, conducted on 3 families who tested positive after having lunch in a restaurant, the answer is yes.

Research, coordinated by Jianyun Lu of the Guangzhou Center for Disease Control and Prevention, related to 10 cases of coronavirus recorded in the same city of Guangzhou, in southern China, suggests that air conditioning can aid in the transmission of infected droplets. The patients sampled belonged to 3 families who, at the end of January, had eaten in the same restaurant and remained infected.

The first of the 10 cases studied had returned on January 23 from Wuhan, where the coronavirus was first reported in December. The person had lunch with three family members the next day in a windowless restaurant with an air conditioner on each floor.

Two other families sat at neighboring tables, about a meter apart. The symptoms of the disease (fever and cough) presented to the first patient in the evening of that same day. Within the next two weeks, four other members of their family, three members of the second family and two of the third family, fell ill with Covid-19.

Photo © Guangzhou CDC

After a thorough investigation, it emerged that the only known source of exposure for the second and third families was the first patient encountered right at the restaurant.

Under accusation for the spread of the coronavirus in this case was the direction of the air flow coming from the air conditioner ventilation which was located in the dining room, a key factor according to the study for the infection.

As the research, presented in an early-release article for the July edition of Emerging Infectious Diseases, the journal published by the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, states:

"From our examination of the potential transmission routes, we concluded that the most likely cause of this outbreak was droplet transmission" 

Another 73 customers who dined on the same floor did not test positive for the coronavirus, and neither did the restaurant staff. This could have been due to the airflow of the conditioner which would have scattered the infected drops only in some places.

How to avoid risks? According to the researchers, it would be enough for restaurants to increase the space between the tables and improve ventilation to concretely reduce the possibility of contagion.

The team said the research still has limitations because no experimental study has been conducted to simulate the air transmission route, nor antibody studies on asymptomatic family members, negative results for tampons, and other diners to estimate the real risk of infection.

Reference source: CDC / South China Morning

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