“It’s really shocking to most virologists and epidemiologists that airborne dust, rather than expiratory droplets, can carry influenza virus capable of infecting animals,” researcher William Ristenpart, a professor in the UC Davis department of chemical engineering, said in a statement. “The implicit assumption is always that airborne transmission occurs because of respiratory droplets emitted by coughing, sneezing or talking. Transmission via dust opens up whole new areas of investigation and has profound implications for how we interpret laboratory experiments as well as epidemiological investigations of outbreaks.”

The researchers studied only one strain of the influenza virus and are careful to note that the results may be different for different strains of influenza virus or for other respiratory viruses, including coronaviruses such as SARS-CoV2. And the study suggests that more research is needed to determine the probability of spreading viruses like COVID-19 by aerosolized fomites.