From experts, the "6-second rule" to reduce the risk of contagion

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Elia Tabuenca García

Coronavirus is a poison, which kills more frequently in high doses. So, up to 6 seconds and within 6 feet of distance it is very unlikely to infect

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Il coronavirus it is a poison, which kills more frequently in high doses. Therefore, up to 6 seconds and within 6 feet of distance (about 2 meters), it is very difficult to infect, or in any case in a mild if not asymptomatic way. In other words, even in the absence of protections, within 6 seconds and 2 meters of proximity to an infected person, the risk of getting sick would seem very low.

These are the conclusions reached by Joshua D. Rabinowitz and Caroline R. Bartman, researchers at Princeton University (USA), who, in an editorial published in the New York Times, introduce the "6 seconds and 6 feet rule", inviting the scientific community to focus on viral load, a factor less considered in debate and research, but no less important.

The importance of dose viral is neglected in discussions about the coronavirus, experts say, but it is an important factor (also considered a possible Phase 2 of "coexistence with the virus"): the small initial exposures, in fact, would tend to lead to mild or asymptomatic infections, while higher doses would risk being lethal.

"From a political point of view, we must consider that not all exposures to the coronavirus can be the same - they write - Entering an office building that once housed someone with the coronavirus is not as dangerous as sitting next to an infected person for an hour. of train traveling. This may seem obvious, but many people are not making this distinction. We need to focus more on high-dose infection prevention".

So in the hospitals, first of all, who are not always adequately equipped, complaining of a lack of individual protections (starting with the masks recommended for those exposed to a large amount of viral load) and of capillary organization.

The "6 seconds and 6 feet rule" arises from a generalized behavior of many viruses: dose sensitivity has been observed for any common acute viral infection investigated in preclinical studies but also on humans, including coronaviruses, of which the COVID-2 it represents a particularly aggressive specimen.

In this regard, the researchers report, observations had been carried out during the SARS epidemic of 2003: for example, in Hong Kong, a patient infected many other residents in the same apartment complex, causing 19 deaths, and it was believed that the spread of infection was due to airborne viral particles blow across the complex from the initial patient's apartment.

As a result of a increased viral exposure, neighbors who lived in the same building were not only more frequently infected, but they also had more likely to die, while those more distant, even if infected, suffered less, showing milder symptoms.

And less severe infections can still lead to immunity, protecting against high-dose exposure in the future - that's the principle of vaccines. In the specific case, it is still difficult to use this awareness for preventive purposes because it is not yet clear whether the virus instills permanent immunity (indeed, cases of alleged relapse have been reported).


However, in a perspective of managing coexistence, it is important to take into account that in-person interactions are more dangerous in closed spaces and at short distances, with a dose that increases with exposure time. For transient interactions, the most at risk would appear to be those that violate the "within two meters, only six seconds" rule.

"A complete block of the company it is the most effective way to stop the spread of the virus, but it is costly both economically and psychologically. When the company eventually reopens, risk reduction measures such as maintaining personal space and practicing proper hand washing will be essential to reduce infections in high doses. "

Hence, according to the scientists, places such as stadiums and conference halls should remain closed, while risky but essential services such as public transport may be allowed, as long as people implement safety measures such as wearing masks, maintaining physical distance and avoiding going out. with symptoms such as fever, which indicates a higher viral load.

But all this only when the spread of the virus it will be slowed down sharply.

"Now it's time to stay home - they conclude - But let's hope that this time will be short. When we start leaving our homes again, let's do it wisely, in light of the importance of the viral dose ".

And in the meantime, we protect those exposed to high doses because they have no alternatives, therefore starting from healthcare personnel.

Sources of reference: Joshua D. Rabinowitz and Caroline R. Bartman / New York Times

Read also:

  • Coronavirus: a sneeze could infect up to 8 meters. The new MIT study
  • Use of masks in public for everyone? WHO ready to review guidelines
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