Researchers say that germs and viruses can get swept up in soil dust and sea spray, being carried thousands of miles around the Earth before falling back to the surface. Photo by Ernst Vikne
FRIDAY, Feb. 9, 2018 -- As if you weren't worried enough about the germs on surfaces around you, new research suggests that viruses and bacteria are literally dropping down on your head.
Scientists report that large numbers of all manner of germs circulate in, and fall from, the Earth's atmosphere. Not only that, the virus that lands on you may have traveled from another continent, the researchers added.
The germs are swept up in soil dust and sea spray into an area called the free troposphere. It's located above weather systems but below the stratosphere where jets fly.
At that altitude, viruses and bacteria can be carried thousands of miles before they fall back to Earth's surface, the researchers said.
"Every day, more than 800 million viruses are deposited per square meter above the planetary boundary layer -- that's 25 viruses for each person in Canada," said study co-senior author Curtis Suttle, a virologist at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.
Deposit rates for viruses were nine to 461 times greater than for bacteria, the researchers said.
"Roughly 20 years ago, we began finding genetically similar viruses occurring in very different environments around the globe," Suttle explained in a university news release.
"This preponderance of long-residence viruses traveling the atmosphere likely explains why -- it's quite conceivable to have a virus swept up into the atmosphere on one continent and deposited on another," he said.
The study was published recently in the International Society for Microbial Ecology Journal.
The U.S. National Library of Medicine has resources on viral infections.
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