As we learn more about how illnesses spread, we consider new methods of transmission that hadn’t been previously investigated. One major idea that 2018 has presented is: can a virus spread via the rain?
As shown in new findings, they can and they do.
There’s nothing radical about viruses existing in water. Many common illnesses, like cholera and typhoid, can spread via the liquid. But, exploring the thought of rain carrying disease is relatively novel. Scientists had not been able to quantify what was “hiding out” in the atmosphere before.
Now, research from the International Society for Microbial Ecology Journal found that the free troposphere is behind quite a bit of disease spread.
That layer of the atmosphere sits right below where an airplane would fly. It deposits billions of viruses and tens of millions of bacteria per square meter every day in areas such as the Sierra Nevada Mountains in Spain. They claim that over 800 million viruses are deposited per 11 square feet above the planetary boundary layer.
Viruses are mainly swept into the air through sea spray and soil dust. According to UBC Science, they use smaller and lighter organic particles suspended in air and gas for transportation. The viruses can then stay up longer in the air.
Once they reach above the atmospheric boundary layer, or approximately 8,000 to 10,000 feet, they can then enjoy long-range transport. This could very likely send an illness from one continent to another according to Curtis Suttle. Suttle is one of the main authors of the ISME Journal paper and a virologist at the University of British Columbia.
The findings give scientists a real idea how some viruses can survive in many different ecosystems and environments. Because the main connection is water, viruses could potentially be spread across the globe due to contamination of only one lake or pond.
Virus spreading through rain also presents an interaction of real-world science and pop culture sci-fi. Netflix’s new Danish series, “The Rain“, imagines a world in which rainwater is contaminated with a deadly virus. Other shows, such as the “Doctor Who” special, “The Waters of Mars”, play with the idea of an intelligent virus that spreads though even the smallest contact with water.
Unlike in “The Rain” or “The Waters of Mars”, the viruses which are transported through rain and soil dust aren’t exactly bad. Many of them actually help the Earth continue to function.
Suttle told Eric Westervelt of Here & Now that “So many of the viruses – and perhaps just about all of them — in fact, are keeping planetary processes going on. So almost all of these viruses infect the microbes that are in the ocean and on the surface of the Earth. So essentially … none of these microbes statistically speaking would infect humans, so it’s not something we have to worry about.”
Did you know that viruses could spread through the rain? Did you have any idea about how many viruses were in the lowest level of the troposphere? Let us know in the comments below, or via Facebook and Twitter.
Written for Passport Health by Katherine Meikle. Katherine is a freelance writer and proud first-generation British-American living in Florida, where she was born and raised. She has a passion for travel and a love of writing, which go hand-in-hand.