Airport service providers are the source of a deadly outbreak in Spain and a rise in cases in Italy.
A team of scientists from the Universities of Valencia and Barcelona analysed data from Spanish airport terminals and hotels and found a dramatic increase in cases linked to an outbreak in the summer of 2015.
In Madrid’s La Cancun airport terminal, the virus began showing up in hotel rooms in June 2015.
“We did not have the capacity to test the hotel guests,” said Dr Sergio M. C. Ferreira, head of the research group, from the University of Valencia.
“We thought the problem was related to the fact that people who stayed at hotels in hotels and stayed there were exposed to the virus.”
The virus infected 4,000 people and killed 11, the first case linked to the outbreak.
“Our study showed that we were in a period of very rapid increase in hotel stays during the summer and summer of 2016,” said Ferreiras.
“So it seems as though we had a new reservoir of virus in hotel guest rooms.”
A new reservoir: the ‘hotel factory’That outbreak is believed to have started when a man in his late 40s was staying at a hotel in Barcelona.
He developed an elevated fever and was taken to hospital.
The virus had already infected the blood and the brain of other people at the hotel.
Ferreira said he would like to see the hotel factory investigated further.
“The hotel factory was a factory of the virus, and we are studying it more closely,” he said.
“If we found a case of this, we would know how it started and why it spread.
The hotel factory may have been responsible for the rise in virus cases.”
The team also found that the virus had taken hold of hotel rooms from a different location, which could explain why some of them showed a high number of hotel stays.
Dr Alvaro Martínez, who was part of the team, said: “We found the same patterns we saw in the hospital in Barcelona, which is why we did not expect such an increase in the virus in Madrid.”
But it wasn’t just hotel stays that were causing problems.
“Hotel guests who stayed in hotels were not only exposed to high virus loads, they also had an elevated immune response to this virus,” said Martínes.
“We found that these immune cells in hotel guests were being stimulated by the virus.
They were able to fight it off.
It means that they are fighting the virus but also the infection.”
Researchers also found evidence of other ways that the hotel industry was contributing to the rise of the outbreak, including a change in policy.
Spain is one of the few countries in the world where people can stay in hotels without a quarantine, meaning they can travel freely and stay for as long as they like.
In July, Spain relaxed its rules on staying at hotels and hotels started issuing a general rule to allow people to stay at hotels for as many as six months, instead of the maximum of four.
The hotel industry has not commented on the new rules.
But Dr Ferreirs said it would be interesting to know if the changes had an impact.
“To answer the question, ‘What are the consequences of this relaxation?’, we would like further to understand how the hotel business is being affected, and whether it is related to changes in the regulatory environment or other factors,” he added.
Read more about coronavirus:The article ‘Hotel factory’: how a ‘cool’ hotel turned into a deadly epidemic