SARS-CoV and SARS-CoV-2 are transmitted through the air between ferrets over more than one meter distance
SARS-CoV-2 emerged in late 2019 and caused a pandemic, whereas the closely related SARS-CoV was contained rapidly in 2003. Here, a newly developed experimental set-up was used to study transmission of SARS-CoV and SARS-CoV-2 through the air between ferrets over more than a meter distance. Both viruses caused a robust productive respiratory tract infection resulting in transmission of SARS-CoV-2 to two of four indirect recipient ferrets and SARS-CoV to all four. A control pandemic A/H1N1 influenza virus also transmitted efficiently. Serological assays confirmed all virus transmission events. Although the experiments did not discriminate between transmission via small aerosols, large droplets and fomites, these results demonstrate that SARS-CoV and SARS-CoV-2 can remain infectious while travelling through the air. Efficient virus transmission between ferrets is in agreement with frequent SARS-CoV-2 outbreaks in mink farms. Although the evidence for airborne virus transmission between humans under natural conditions is absent or weak for SARS-CoV and SARS-CoV-2, ferrets may represent a sensitive model to study interventions aimed at preventing virus transmission.
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