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askST: Can coronavirus be spread by sweat, or via activities such as singing?

There is currently no evidence showing that the virus can be transmitted through one’s perspiration.

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Updated: March 12, 2020

Concerns have been raised over social activities such as singing and exercising in the light of the coronavirus outbreak.

As of Wednesday (March 11), Singapore’s largest Safra Jurong cluster of confirmed coronavirus cases went up to 40, against a total of 178 cases.

The patients, who had attended a Feb 15 Chinese New Year celebration held in the ballroom of Joy Garden restaurant at Safra Jurong, are members of a Hokkien singing group.

This has raised concerns as to whether the disease, known as Covid-19, can be transmitted through singing.

Similar concerns have been expressed about whether the virus can be spread through sweat by those who like going to the gym and run in marathons.

A: Infected individuals who sing could transmit the virus through their saliva or respiratory droplets.

These droplets could then transmit the virus to other individuals through both direct and indirect means.

Professor Leo Yee Sin, executive director of the National Centre for Infectious Diseases, said at an ST Panel Discussion on Monday that both direct and indirect forms of droplet transmission are not mutually exclusive. For example, individuals who are in close interaction with one another are likely to have touched the same surfaces, making them equally vulnerable to both forms of transmission.

A: However, infectious diseases expert Leong Hoe Nam said in an interview with The New Paper that “sweat alone won’t spread the disease, but it could if it mixes with gunk on a person’s nose or if the person coughs and contaminates the sweat”.

A: Patrons should be mindful of gym equipment that is commonly used and has high-contact surfaces.

However, gyms have stepped up their disinfection routines and sanitised equipment more frequently as well as implemened mandatory temperature checks.

Dr Leong said as long as all patrons maintain their hygiene, gyms are unlikely to be potential clusters for disease transmission.

A: Since marathons involve large gatherings of people, joining these events could increase the risk of human-to-human transmissions.

Marathons being held overseas have been cancelled or are at the risk of cancellation in the light of the virus, such as the Paris half-marathon that was scheduled to take place on March 1, with an expected turnout of 44,000 runners.

National Development Minister Lawrence Wong said on Tuesday that the current advisory on large-scale events in Singapore is being reviewed, and tightened measures will have downstream implications on upcoming events in view of intensified social-distancing measures.

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About the Author: The Straits Times is Singapore's top-selling newspaper.

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