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Although short-range large-droplet transmission is possible for most respiratory infectious agents, deciding on whether the same agent is also airborne has a potentially huge impact on the types (and costs) of infection control interventions that are required. The concept and definition of aerosols is also discussed, as is the concept of large droplet transmission, and airborne transmission which is meant by most authors to be synonymous with aerosol transmission, although some use the term to mean either large droplet or aerosol transmission. However, these terms are often used confusingly when discussing specific infection control interventions for individual pathogens that are accepted to be mostly transmitted by the airborne (aerosol) route (e.g. tuberculosis, measles and chickenpox). It is therefore important to clarify such terminology, where a particular intervention, like the type of personal protective equipment (PPE) to be used, is deemed adequate to intervene for this potential mode of transmission, i.e. at an N95 rather than surgical mask level requirement. With this in mind, this review considers the commonly used term of ‘aerosol transmission’ in the context of some infectious agents that are well-recognized to be transmissible via the airborne route. It also discusses other agents, like influenza virus, where the potential for airborne transmission is much more dependent on various host, viral and environmental factors, and where its potential for aerosol transmission may be underestimated.
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R E V I E W Open Access
Recognition of aerosol transmission of
infectious agents: a commentary
Raymond Tellier
, Yuguo Li
, Benjamin J. Cowling
and Julian W. Tang
Although short-range large-droplet transmission is possible for most respiratory infectious agents, deciding on whether
the same agent is also airborne has a potentially huge impact on the types (and costs) of infection control interventions
that are required.
The concept and definition of aerosols is also discussed, as is the concept of large droplet transmission, and airborne
transmission which is meant by most authors to be synonymous with aerosol transmission, although some use the term
to mean either large droplet or aerosol transmission.
However, these terms are often used confusingly when discussing specific infection control interventions for individual
pathogens that are accepted to be mostly transmitted by the airborne (aerosol) route (e.g. tuberculosis, measles and
chickenpox). It is therefore important to clarify such terminology, where a particular intervention, like the type of personal
protective equipment (PPE) to be used, is deemed adequate to intervene for this potential mode of transmission, i.e. at
an N95 rather than surgical mask level requirement.
With this in mind, this review considers the commonly used term of aerosol transmissionin the context of some infectious
agents that are well-recognized to be transmissible via the airborne route. It also discusses other agents, like influenza virus,
where the potential for airborne transmission is much more dependent on various host, viral and environmental factors,
and where its potential for aerosol transmission may be underestimated.
Keywords: Aerosol, Airborne, Droplet, Transmission, Infection
* Correspondence:;
Department of Infection, Immunity and Inflammation, University of
Leicester, Leicester, UK
Clinical Microbiology, University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust, Level 5
Sandringham Building, Leicester Royal Infirmary, Infirmary Square, Leicester
Full list of author information is available at the end of the article
© The Author(s). 2019 Open Access This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0
International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and
reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to
the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver
( applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.
Tellier et al. BMC Infectious Diseases (2019) 19:101
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The classification of an infectious agent as airborne and
therefore aerosol-transmissiblehas significant implica-
tions for how healthcare workers (HCWs) need to manage
patients infected with such agents and what sort of per-
sonal protective equipment (PPE) they will need to wear.
Such PPE is usually more costly for airborne agents (i.e.
aerosol-transmissible) than for those that are only trans-
mitted by large droplets or direct contact because of two
key properties of aerosols: a) their propensity to follow air
flows, which requires a tight seal of the PPE around the
airways, and b) for bioaerosols, their small size, which calls
for an enhanced filtering capacity.
Several recent articles and/or guidance, based on clinical
and epidemiological data, have highlighted the potential for
aerosol transmission for Middle-East Respiratory Syndro
me-associated coronavirus (MERS-CoV) [1,2] and Ebola
virus [3,4]. Some responses to the latter have attempted to
put these theoretical risks in a more practical light [4], and
this nicely illustrates the quandary of how to classify such
emerging or re-emerging pathogens into either the large
droplet (short-range) versus airborne (short and possibly
long-range) transmission categories. However, this delinea-
tion is not black and white, as there is also the potential for
pathogens under both classifications to be potentially
transmitted by aerosols between people at close range (i.e.
within 1 m).
Strictly speaking, aerosolsrefer to particles in suspension
in a gas, such as small droplets in air. There have been nu-
merous publications classifying droplets using particle sizes
over the years [510]. For example it is generally accepted
that: i) small particles of < 510 μm aerodynamic diameter
that follow airflow streamlines are potentially capable of
short and long range transmission; particles of < 5 μm
readily penetrates the airways all the way down to the al-
veolar space, and particles of < 10 μm readily penetrates
below the glottis (7) ii) large droplets of diameters > 20 μm
refer to those that follow a more ballistic trajectory (i.e.
falling mostly under the influence of gravity), where the
droplets are too large to follow inhalation airflow stream-
lines. For these particle sizes, for example, surgical masks
rier to droplets of this size that are too large to be inhaled
into the respiratory tract around the sides of the mask
(which are not close-fitting); iii) intermediate particlesof
diameters 1020 μm, will share some properties of both
small and large droplets, to some extent, but settle more
quickly than particles < 10 μm and potentially carry a
smaller infectious dose than large (> 20 μm) droplets.
Aerosolswould also include droplet nucleiwhich are
small particles with an aerodynamic diameter of 10 μm
or less, typically produced through the process of rapid
desiccation of exhaled respiratory droplets [5,6]. How-
ever, in some situations, such as where there are strong
ambient air cross-flows, for example, larger droplets can
behave like aerosols with the potential to transmit infec-
tion via this route (see next section below).
Several properties can be inferred from this, for example
the penetration of the lower respiratory tract (LRT), as at
greater than 10 μm diameter, penetration below the glottis
rapidly diminishes, as does any potential for initiating an
infection at that site. Similarly, any such potential for
depositing and initiating an LRT infection is less likely
above a droplet diameter of 20 μm, as such large particles
will probably impact onto respiratory epithelial mucosal
surfaces or be trapped by cilia before reaching the LRT [6].
The Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA) has
proposed a scheme that is essentially equivalent [7], defin-
ing respirable particlesas having a diameter of 10 μmor
less; and inspirable particlesas having a diameter between
10 μma
nd100μm, nearly all of which are deposited in the
upper airways. Some authors have proposed the term fine
aerosols, consisting of particles of 5 μm or less, but this
has been in part dictated by constraints from measurement
instruments [8]. Several authors lump together transmis-
sion by either large droplets or aerosol-sized particles as
airborne transmission[9], or use aerosol transmission
to describe pathogens that can causediseaseviainspirable
particles of any size [10].
However, we think that it is important to maintain a
distinction between particles of < 10 μm and larger parti-
cles, because of their significant qualitative differences
including suspension time, penetration of different re-
gions of the airways and requirements for different PPE.
In this commentary, we use the common convention of
airborne transmissionto mean transmission by
aerosol-size particles of < 10 μm.
If the infected patients produce infectious droplets of
varying sizes by breathing, coughing or sneezing, trans-
mission between individuals by both short-range large
droplets and airborne small droplet nuclei are both pos-
sible, depending on the distance from the patient source.
Figure 1illustrates these potential routes of short and
long-range airborne transmission, as well as the down-
stream settling of such droplets onto surfaces (fomites).
From such fomites, they may be touched and transported
by hands to be self-inoculated into mucosal membranes
e.g. in the eyes, nose and mouth) to cause infection,
depending on the survival characteristics of individual
pathogens on such surfaces, and the susceptibility (related
to available, compatible cell receptors) of the different
exposed tissues to infection by these pathogens.
For example, when the infectious dose (the number of
infectious agents required to cause disease) of an organ-
ism is low, and where large numbers of pathogen-laden
droplets are produced in crowded conditions with poor
Tellier et al. BMC Infectious Diseases (2019) 19:101 Page 2 of 9
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ventilation (in hospital waiting rooms, in lecture theatres,
on public transport, etc.), explosive outbreaks can still
occur, even with pathogens whose airborne transmission
capacity is controversial, e.g. the spread of influenza in a
grounded plane where multiple secondary cases were
observed in the absence of any ventilation [11].
The more mechanistic approaches (i.e. arguing from the
more fundamental physical and dynamic behavior of small
versus larger particle and droplet sizes in the absence of
any biological interactions) to classifying which pathogens
are likely to transmit via the airborne route have been
published in various ways over the years [1217], but may
have to be considered in combination with epidemiological
and environmental data to make a convincing argument
about the potential for the airborne transmissibility of any
particular agent and the number of possible potential
exposure scenarios is virtually unlimited).
The importance of ambient airflows and the of aerosols
Oneshouldnotethataerosolis essentially a relative and
not an absolute term. A larger droplet can remain airborne
for longer if ambient airflows can sustain this suspension
for longer, e.g. in some strong cross-flow or natural ventila-
tion environments, where ventilation-induced airflows can
propagate suspended pathogens effectively enough to cause
infection at a considerable distance away from the source.
One of the standard rules (Stokes Law) applied in
engineering calculations to estimate the suspension
times of droplets falling under gravity with air resist-
ance, was derived assuming several conditions includ-
ing that the ambient air is still [1317]. So actual
suspension times will be far higher where there are
significant cross-flows, which is often the case in
healthcare environments, e.g. with doors opening, bed
and equipment movement, and people walking back
and forth, constantly. Conversely, suspension times,
even for smaller droplet nuclei, can be greatly re-
duced if they encounter a significant downdraft (e.g.
if they pass under a ceiling supply vent). In addition,
the degree of airway penetration, for different particle
sizes, also depends on the flow rate.
In the field of dentistry and orthopedics, where
high-powered electric tools are used, even bloodborne
viruses (such as human immunodeficiency virus HIV,
hepatitis B and hepatitis B viruses) can become airborne
when they are contained in high velocity blood splatter
generated by these instruments [18,19]. Yet, whether they
can cause efficient transmission via this route is more
debatable. This illustrates another point, that although
some pathogens can be airborne in certain situations, they
may not necessarily transmit infection and cause disease
via this route.
Fig. 1 An illustration of various possible transmission routes of respiratory infection between an infected and a susceptible individual. Both close
range (i.e. conversational) airborne transmission and longer range (over several meters) transmission routes are illustrated here. The orange head
colour represents a source and the white head colour a potential recipient (with the bottom right panel indicating that both heads are potential
recipients via self-inoculation from contaminated surface fomite sources). Here Expirationalso includes normal breathing exhalation, as well as
coughing and/or sneezing airflows. Airborne droplets can then settle on surfaces (fomites) from where they can be touched and carried on
hands leading to further self-inoculation routes of transmission
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Over time, for a pathogen with a truly predominant air-
borne transmission route, eventually sufficient numbers
of published studies will demonstrate its true nature
[13]. If there are ongoing contradictory findings in mul-
tiple studies (as with influenza virus), it may be more
likely that the various transmission routes (direct/indir-
ect contact, short-range droplet, long-, and even short-
range airborne droplet nuclei) may predominate in
different settings [16,20], making the airborne route for
that particular pathogen more of an opportunistic
pathway, rather than the norm [21]. Several examples
may make this clearer.
The selected pathogens and supporting literature
summarized below are for illustrative purposes only, to
demonstrate how specific studies have impacted the way
we consider such infectious agents as potentially airborne
and aerosol-transmissible. It is not intended to be a sys-
tematic review, but rather to show how our thinking may
change with additional studies on each pathogen, and how
the acceptance of aerosol transmissionfor different path-
ogens did not always followed a consistent approach.
Results and discussion
Chickenpox is a febrile, vesicular rash illness caused by vari-
cella zoster virus (VZV), a lipid-enveloped, double-stranded
DNA virus, and a member of the Herpesviridae family.
For chickenpox, the evidence appears to be mainly
epidemiological and clinical, though this has appeared to
be sufficient to classify varicella zoster virus (VZV) as an
airborne agent. Studies on VZV have shown that the virus
is clearly able to travel long distances (i.e. up to tens of me-
ters away from the index case, to spread between isolation
rooms and other ward areas connected by corridors, or
within a household) to cause secondary infections and/or
settle elsewhere in the environment [2224]. In addition,
Tang et al. [25] showed that airborne VZV could leak out
of isolation rooms transported by induced environmental
airflows to infect a susceptible HCW, most likely via the
direct inhalation route.
Measles (also known as rubeola) is a febrile, rash illness
caused by the measles virus, a lipid-enveloped, single-
stranded, negative-sense RNA virus, and a member of
the Paramyxoviridae family.
For measles several studies examined a more mechanistic
airflow dynamical explanation(i.e.baseduponthefunda-
mental physics and behaviour of airborne particles) for the
main transmission route involved in several measles out-
breaks [26], including that of Riley and colleagues who used
the concept of quantaof infection [27]. Later, two other
outbreaks in outpatient clinics included retrospective
airflow dynamics analysis, providing more evidence for the
transmissibility of measles via the airborne route [28,29].
Tuberculosis is a localized or systemic, but most often
respiratory bacterial illness caused by mycobacteria
belonging to the Mycobacterium tuberculosis complex.
For tuberculosis (TB), definitive experimental evidence
of airborne transmission being necessary and sufficient to
cause disease was provided in a series of guinea-pig exper-
iments [30,31], which has been repeated more recently in
a slightly different clinical context [32]. Numerous other
outbreak reports have confirmed the transmissibility of
TB via the airborne route [3335], and interventions
specifically targeting the airborne transmission route have
proven effective in reducing TB transmission [36].
Smallpox is a now eradicated, febrile, vesicular rash and
disseminated illness, caused by a complex, double-
stranded DNA orthopoxvirus (Poxviridae family), which
can present clinically in two forms, as variola major or
variola minor.
For smallpox, a recent comprehensive, retrospective
analysis of the literature by Milton has suggested an im-
portant contribution of the airborne transmission route
for this infection [37]. Although various air-sampling
and animal transmission studies were also reviewed, Mil-
ton also emphasized clinical epidemiological studies
where non-airborne transmission routes alone could not
account for all the observed smallpox cases.
At least one well-documented hospital outbreak, involv-
ing 17 cases of smallpox, could only be explained by
assuming the aerosol spread of the virus from the index
case, over several floors. Retrospective smoke tracer ex-
periments further demonstrated that airborne virus could
easily spread to patients on different floors via open
windows and connecting corridors and stairwells in a
pattern roughly replicating the location of cases [38].
Emerging coronaviruses: Severe acute respiratory
syndrome (SARS), middle-east respiratory syndrome
Coronaviruses are lipid-enveloped, single-stranded positive
sense RNA viruses, belong to the genus Coronavirus and
include several relatively benign, seasonal, common cold vi-
ruses (229E, OC43, NL63, HKU-1). They also include two
new more virulent coronaviruses: severe acute respiratory
syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV), which emerged in the
human population in 2003; and Middle-East Respiratory
Syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV), which emerged in
humans during 2012.
For SARS-CoV, several thorough epidemiological studies
that include retrospective airflow tracer investigations are
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consistent with the hypothesis of an airborne transmission
route [3941]. Air-sampling studies have also demonstrated
the presence of SARS-CoV nucleic acid (RNA) in air,
though they did not test viability using viral culture [42].
Although several studies compared and contrasted
SARS and MERS from clinical and epidemiological an-
gles [4345], the predominant transmission mode was
not discussed in detail, if at all. Several other studies do
mention the potential for airborne transmission, when
comparing potential routes of infection, but mainly in
relation to super-spreading events or aerosolizing pro-
ceduressuch as broncho-alveolar lavage, and/or a po-
tential route to take into consideration for precautionary
infection control measures [4648]. However, from the
various published studies, for both MERS and SARS, it
is arguable that a proportion of transmission occurs
through the airborne route, although this may vary in
different situations (e.g. depending on host, and environ-
mental factors). The contribution from asymptomatic
cases is also uncertain [49].
For both SARS and MERS, LRT samples offer the best
diagnostic yield, often in the absence of any detectable
virus in upper respiratory tract (URT) samples [5052].
Furthermore, infected, symptomatic patients tend to
develop severe LRT infections rather than URT disease.
Both of these aspects indicate that this is an airborne
agent that has to penetrate directly into the LRT to pref-
erentially replicate there before causing disease.
For MERS-CoV specifically, a recent study demon-
strated the absence of expression of dipeptidyl peptidase
4 (DPP4), the identified receptor used by the virus, in
the cells of the human URT. The search for an alternate
receptor was negative [53]. Thus, the human URT would
seem little or non-permissive for MERS-CoV replication,
indicating that successful infection can only result from
the penetration into the LRT via direct inhalation of
appropriately sized droplet nuclei-likeparticles. This
makes any MERS-CoV transmission leading to MERS
disease conditional on the presence of virus-containing
droplets small enough to be inhaled into the LRT where
the virus can replicate.
Influenza is a seasonal, often febrile respiratory illness,
caused by several species of influenza viruses. These are
lipid-enveloped, single-stranded, negative-sense, segmented
RNA viruses belonging to the Orthomyxoviridae family.
Currently, influenza is the only common seasonal respira-
tory virus for which licensed antiviral drugs and vaccines
are available.
For human influenza viruses, the question of airborne
versus large droplet transmission is perhaps most con-
troversial [5457]. In experimental inoculation experi-
ments on human volunteers, aerosolized influenza
viruses are infectious at a dose much lower than by nasal
instillation [58]. The likely answer is that both routes are
possible and that the importance and significance of
each route will vary in different situations [16,20,21].
For example, tighter control of the environment may
reduce or prevent airborne transmission by: 1) isolating
infectious patients in a single-bed, negative pressure iso-
lation room [25]; 2) controlling environmental relative
humidity to reduce airborne influenza survival [59]; 3)
reducing exposure from aerosols produced by patients
through coughing, sneezing or breathing with the use of
personal protective equipment (wearing a mask) on the
patient (to reduce source emission) and/or the health-
care worker (to reduce recipient exposure) [60]; 4) care-
fully controlling the use and exposure to any respiratory
assist devices (high-flow oxygen masks, nebulizers) by
only allowing their use in designated, containment areas
or rooms [61]. The airflows being expelled from the side
vents of oxygen masks and nebulisers will contain a mix-
ture of patient exhaled air (which could be carrying air-
borne pathogens) and incoming high flow oxygen or air
carrying nebulized drugs. These vented airflows could
then act as potential sources of airborne pathogens.
Numerous studies have shown the emission of influenza
RNA from the exhaled breath of naturally influenza-
infected human subjects [6266] and have detected influ-
enza RNA in environmental air [6769]. More recently,
some of these studies have shown the absence of [70], or
significantly reduced numbers of viable viruses in
air-samples with high influenza RNA levels (as tested by
PCR) [66,71,72]. The low number of infectious particles
detected is currently difficult to interpret as culture
methods are inherently less sensitive than molecular
methods such as PCR, and the actual operation of air-
sampling itself, through shear-stress related damage to the
virions, also causes a drop in infectivity in the collected
samples. This may lead to underestimates of the amount of
live virus in these environmental aerosols.
An additional variable to consider is that some animal
studies have reported that different strains of influenza
virus may vary widely in their capacity for aerosol trans-
mission [73].
In some earlier articles that discuss the predominant
mode of influenza virus transmission [7478], these same
questions are addressed with mixed conclusions. Most of
the evidence described to support their views was more
clinical and epidemiological, and included some animal
and human volunteer studies, rather than physical and
mechanistic. Yet, this mixed picture of transmission in dif-
ferent circumstances is probably the most realistic.
It is noteworthy that several infections currently ac-
cepted as airborne-transmitted, such as measles,
chickenpox or TB present, in their classical form, an un-
mistakable and pathognomonic clinical picture. In
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contrast the clinical picture of influenza virus infection
has a large overlap with that of other respiratory viruses,
and mixed outbreaks have been documented [79]. Thus,
a prevalent misconception in the field has been to study
respiratory virusesas a group. However, given that
these viruses belong to different genera and families,
have different chemical and physical properties and dif-
fering viral characteristics, it is unwise and inaccurate to
assume that any conclusions about one virus can be ap-
plied to another, e.g. in a Cochrane review of 59 pub-
lished studies on interventions to reduce the spread of
respiratory viruses, there were actually only two studies
specifically about influenza viruses [80]. As the authors
themselves pointed out, no conclusion specific to influ-
enza viruses was possible.
While many airborne infections are highly contagious,
this is not, strictly speaking, part of the definition. Even so,
the lower contagiousness of influenza compared to, say,
measles has been invoked as an argument against a signifi-
cant contribution of airborne transmission. Yet, it should
be noted that a feature of influenza virus infections is that
the incubation time (typically 12 days) is much shorter
than its duration of shedding. This allows for the possibility
that a susceptible person will be exposed during an out-
break to several different infectious cases belonging to
more than one generation in the outbreak. This multiple
exposure and telescoping of generations may result in an
underestimate of influenza virus transmissibility, as fewer
secondary cases will be assigned to a known index case,
when in fact the number of secondary cases per index
could be much higher. For example, it is known that in
some settings a single index case can infect a large number
of people, e.g. 38 in an outbreak on an Alaska Airlines
flight [11].
Ebola is a viral hemorrhagic fever associated with a very
high mortality, caused by the Ebola viruses; these are envel-
oped single-strand, negative-sense RNA viruses comprising
five species within the family Filoviridae. Four Ebola species
have been implicated in human diseases; the most wide-
spread outbreak, also the most recent, was caused by Ebola
Zaire in West Africa in 20132016. The transmission of
Ebola viruses has been reviewed in depth by Osterholm
et al. (4). These authors noted the broad tissue tropism, as
well as the high viral load reached during illness and the
low infectious dose, from which it appears inescapable that
more than one mode of transmission is possible.
Regarding aerosol transmission, concerns are raised by
several documented instances of transmission of Ebola
Zaire in laboratory settings between animals without direct
contact [81,82] (also reviewed in [4]). Experimental infec-
tions of Rhesus monkeys by Ebola Zaire using aerosol in-
fection has been shown to be highly effective [83,84]and
this experimental procedure has in fact been used as infec-
tious challenge in Ebola vaccine studies [85,86]. Rhesus
monkeys infected by aerosol exposure reliably developed
disseminated, fatal infection essentially similar to that
caused by parenteral infection with the addition of involve-
ment of the respiratory tract. Autopsies showed patho-
logical findings in the respiratory tract and respiratory
lymphoid system in animals infected by the aerosol route
that are not found in animals infected parenterally [83,84].
Such respiratory pathological lesions have not been re-
ported in human autopsies of Ebola cases, but as noted
by Osterholm et al. [4], there have been few human aut-
opsies of Ebola cases, arguably too few to confidently
rule out any possibility of disease acquired by the aerosol
route. The precautionary principle would therefore dic-
tate that aerosol precautions be used for the care of in-
fected patients, and especially considering that infection
of the respiratory tract in such patients is not necessary
to create an aerosol hazard: Ebola viruses reach a very
high titer in blood or other bodily fluids during the ill-
ness [87,88] and aerosolization of blood or other fluids
would create a significant airborne transmission hazard.
In summary, despite the various mechanistic arguments
about which organisms can be potentially airborne and
therefore aerosol-transmissible, ultimately, the main decid-
ing factor appears to be how many studies using various
differing approaches: empirical (clinical, epidemiological),
and/or experimental (e.g. using animal models), and/or
mechanistic (using airflow tracers and air-sampling)
methods, reach the same consensus opinion. Over time,
the scientific community will eventually form an impression
of the predominant transmission route for that specific
agent, even if the conclusion is one of mixed transmission
routes, with different routes predominating depending on
the specific situations. This is the case for influenza viruses,
and is likely the most realistic.
Some bacterial and viral infections that have more
than one mode of transmission are also anisotropic, like
anthrax, plague, tularemia and smallpox: the severity of
the disease varies depending on the mode of transmis-
sion [37,89]. Older experimental infection experiments
on volunteers suggest that this is the case for influenza,
with transmission by aerosols being associated with a
more severe illness [14,90], and some more recent field
observations are consistent with this concept [57]. For
anisotropic agents, even if a mode of transmission (e.g.
aerosols) accounts for only a minority of cases, interrup-
tion of that route of transmission may be required if it
accounts for the most severe cases.
LRT: lower respiratory tract; MERS-CoV: Middle East Respiratory Syndrome-
associated coronavirus; PCR: polymerase chain reaction; RNA: ribonucleic
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acid; SARS-CoV: severe acute respiratory syndrome-associated coronavirus;
TB: tuberculosis; URT: upper respiratory tract; VZV: varicella zoster virus
None required.
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some require the relevant journal subscriptions for access.
Please note that the views expressed here are solely those of the authors
and are not representative of the institutions to which they are affiliated.
JWT, RT, BJC developed the original concept and outline of the article; YL
contributed the figures and some additional related text; all authors critically
reviewed the final version of the manuscript. All authors read and approved
the final manuscript.
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Author details
Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, University of Calgary,
Calgary, AB, Canada.
Department of Mechanical Engineering, University of
Hong Kong, Pokfulam, Hong Kong, Special Administrative Region of China.
WHO Collaborating Centre for Infectious Disease Epidemiology and Control,
School of Public Health, The University of Hong Kong, Pokfulam, Hong Kong,
Special Administrative Region of China.
Department of Infection, Immunity
and Inflammation, University of Leicester, Leicester, UK.
Microbiology, University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust, Level 5
Sandringham Building, Leicester Royal Infirmary, Infirmary Square, Leicester
LE1 5WW, UK.
Received: 29 August 2017 Accepted: 10 January 2019
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... 8 Understanding the fate of exhaled droplets, and the balance of transmission pathways in indoor spaces is important in prioritizing risk mitigation approaches and understanding transmission dynamics observed at a population level, particularly as the importance and significance of each transmission pathway may vary in different situations. 5 Lack of quantitative risk assessment of airborne transmission of COVID-19 under practical settings leads to large uncertainties and inconsistencies in preventive measures. 9 Computational studies to understand droplet dispersion in classrooms showed the spread of particles was highly dependent on source location, positioning 2 Environmental Health Insights of windows, other outlets, and placement of barriers, 10 demonstrating the importance of residence time in evaluating risk through inhalation of airborne nuclei. ...
... Droplets smaller than ~20 μm evaporate in a short time and hence there is no initial deposition observed in this size range. After coughing, however, the higher release velocity and inertia of the droplets larger than 300 μm enable them to travel farther Nishandar et al 5 and deposit on the wall. The particles in the range of 100 to 300 μm deposit on the counter surface similar to droplets emitted after speaking. ...
Full-text available
The global pandemic of COVID-19 has highlighted the importance of understanding the role that exhaled droplets play in virus transmission in community settings. Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) enables systematic examination of roles the exhaled droplets play in the spread of SARS-CoV-2 in indoor environments. This analysis uses published exhaled droplet size distributions combined with terminal aerosol droplet size based on measured peak concentrations for SARS-CoV-2 RNA in aerosols to simulate exhaled droplet dispersion, evaporation, and deposition in a supermarket checkout area and rideshare car where close proximity with other individuals is common. Using air inlet velocity of 2 m/s in the passenger car and ASHRAE recommendations for ventilation and comfort in the supermarket, simulations demonstrate that exhaled droplets
... COVID-19 transmission occurs following exhalation or release of liquid particles (on a size continuum ranging from fast-settling droplets to persistent airborne aerosols [4][5][6]) containing SARS-CoV-2 from respiratory tracts of infected individuals. Subsequent viral transmission can occur due to contact with viral-laden surfaces and self-inoculation of the mouth or nose; impact on the face or inhalation into the upper-airway of droplets; or inhalation of aerosols into all regions of the respiratory tract (upper-airway, trachea, and lungs) [7]. Early in the pandemic, there was controversy regarding the role of aerosol inhalation (also called airborne transmission). ...
... There is evidence from the SARS and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) outbreaks, as well as emerging evidence from the COVID-19 pandemic, that frontline healthcare workers, who are also likely to participate in high risk aerosol generating procedures (AGPs), are at risk for contracting viral respiratory diseases [7,[15][16][17][18][19]. AGPs are defined as procedures with potential to generate infectious respiratory particles at higher concentrations than breathing, talking, coughing, or sneezing, or procedures that create uncontrolled respiratory secretions [20]. ...
Full-text available
The Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic renewed interest in infectious aerosols and reducing risk of airborne respiratory pathogen transmission, prompting development of devices to protect healthcare workers during airway procedures. However, there are no standard methods for assessing the efficacy of particle containment with these protective devices. We designed and built an aerosol bio-containment device (ABCD) to contain and remove aerosol via an external suction system and tested the aerosol containment of the device in an environmental chamber using a novel, quantitative assessment method. The ABCD exhibited a strong ability to control aerosol exposure in experimental and computational fluid dynamic (CFD) simulated scenarios with appropriate suction use and maintenance of device seals. Using a log-risk-reduction framework, we assessed device containment efficacy and showed that, when combined with other protective equipment, the ABCD can significantly reduce airborne clinical exposure. We propose this type of quantitative analysis serves as a basis for rating efficacy of aerosol protective enclosures.
... Se sabe que los virus respiratorios (Figura 1) pueden transmitirse a través de aerosoles finos (gotitas y núcleos de gotitas con tamaños cercanos a los 5 mm), gotitas respiratorias (aerosoles gruesos con diámetros superiores a los 5 mm), o por contacto directo con secreciones [3,4]. ...
Full-text available
In 2020 there was an increase in the consumption of plastics, mainly due to the high production of personal protective equipment, the use of protective masks, which has turned out to be a high source of microplastics that later end into our seas and oceans, with the consequent destruction of the environment. For this reason, the main objective of this research is to obtain biobased and biodegradable fibers, by melt electro-writting for the manufacture of face masks against SARS CoV-2. For this, a previous study of the different commercial masks existing on the market has been necessary, with the final idea of improving its manufacture from biobased raw materials using more environmentally acceptable and greener production technologies, thus reducing the plastic waste derived from its use.
... Based on previous research, it was well understood that humans continuously emit aerosols, and that, generally, larger particles, such as droplets, tend to travel shorter distances and settle faster than smaller particles (Wells 1934). It was also well known that some respiratory viruses could remain viable in aerosols and surfaces for long periods of time (Boone and Gerba 2007;Tellier et al. 2019). SARS-CoV-1 was considered to be mainly transmitted by a close person-to-person contact through droplets or by contacting contaminated surfaces (Olsen et al. 2003;Otter et al. 2016). ...
At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the primary route of transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus was not well understood. Research gathered from other respiratory infectious diseases, including other coronaviruses, was the basis for the initial perceptions for transmission of SARS-CoV-2. To better understand transmission of SARS-CoV-2, a rapid literature review was conducted from literature generated 19 March 2020, through 23 September 2021. 18,616 unique results were identified from literature databases and screened. Of these, 279 key articles were reviewed and abstracted covering critical topics such as environmental/workplace monitoring, sampling and analytical method evaluation, and the ability of the virus to remain intact and infectious during sampling. This paper describes the results of the rapid literature review, which evaluated pathways that contribute to transmission as well as the strengths and limitations of current sampling approaches. This review also evaluates how different factors, including environmental conditions and surface characteristics, could impact the transmission potential of SARS-CoV-2. A continual rapid review in the midst of a pandemic proved particularly useful for quickly understanding the transmission parameters of the virus and enabled us to comprehensively assess literature, respond to workplace questions, and evaluate our understanding as the science evolved. Air and surface sampling with the accompanying analytical methods were not generally effective in recovering SARS-CoV-2 viable virus or RNA in many likely contaminated environments. In light of these findings, the development of validated sampling and analysis methods is critical for determining worker exposure to SARS-CoV-2 and to assess the impact of mitigation efforts.
... 11,12 Some in-vitro studies have reported that SARS-CoV-2 could be viable for 3 h in an aerosol 13 and could be retained in the ambient air for hours 14 or could be transmitted > 2 m or 6 feet before falling on the ground due to gravity. 12,15 Infectious droplets produced by coughing or sneezing contain larger particles (>5 μm) and are believed to settle within <2 m or 6 feet away from the infected person who produces them. 16,17 Although there are some controversies about the role of aerosols in virus transmission, 13,18 there is now some strong evidence to consider aerosol spread as a major route in virus transmission. ...
Full-text available
Introduction: Airborne transmission is the most crucial mode of COVID-19 transmission. Therefore, disinfecting the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2) aerosols float can have important implications in limiting COVID-19 transmission. Herein, we aimed to review the studies that utilized various disinfectants to decontaminate and inactivate the SARS-CoV-2 aerosols. Methods: This study was a review that studied related articles published between December 1, 2019 and August 23, 2022. We searched the online databases of PubMed, Scopus, Web of Science, Cochrane, on August 23, 2021. The studies were downloaded into the EndNote software, duplicates were removed, and then the studies were screened based on the inclusion/exclusion criteria. The screening process involved two steps; first, the studies were screened based on their title and abstract and then their full texts. The included studies were used for the qualitative analysis. Results: From 664 retrieved records, only 31 met the inclusion criteria and were included in the final qualitative analysis. Various materials like Ozone, H2O2, alcohol, and TiO2 and methods like heating and using Ultraviolet were described in these studies to disinfect places contaminated by COVID-19. It appeared that the efficacy of these disinfectants varies considerably depending on the situation, time, and ultimately their mode of application. Conclusion: Following reliable protocols in combination with the proper selection of disinfectant agents for each purpose would serve to achieve desired elimination of the SARS-CoV-2 transmission.
The emergence of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic renewed interest in infectious aerosols and methods to reduce risk of airborne respiratory pathogen transmission. This has led to the development of novel aerosol protective devices for which clinical and aerosol protective features have not been fully characterized. The relative efficacy of these devices for use during airway procedures has not been assessed in randomized controlled trials. We recruited anesthesiology attendings, residents, and certified registered nurse anesthetists to perform intubations with an aerosol biocontainment device (ABCD). Thirty-seven patients undergoing procedures requiring intubation in the operating room were recruited and randomized (2:1) to intubation with (25) or without (12) the ABCD. Primary endpoints were time to secure the airway and adverse events. Secondary endpoints were a number of intubation attempts, access to the patient and airway equipment through the device ports, user assessment of ABCD function and technical burden, and patient experience in the ABCD. Intubation time with the ABCD (46 s) was not significantly different compared to intubation without the ABCD (37 s; P=0.06). There were 3 adverse events with the ABCD (1 claustrophobia, 2 unanticipated difficult airways) that required device removal for intubation. In general, patients tolerated the device well and ABCD users felt the device functioned as intended but increased the technical burden associated with intubation. It is feasible to use an aerosol protective device for intubation. The introduction of novel devices into high acuity airway procedures should be approached with caution and should account for the risk mitigation gained from the device balanced against the increased procedural complexity and potential safety risks associated with restricted access to the airway.
Ceiling fans are the ubiquitously used electrical appliance in indoor spaces that affect the local airflow pattern and, consequently, transmission of airborne pathogens and respiratory droplets. This study numerically investigated the effect of airflow induced by the ceiling fan and ventilation rate on aerosol distribution to mitigate exposure to airborne pathogens and COVID-19. A full-scale room with a ceiling fan, natural ventilation and an occupant was modelled through transient computational fluid-particle dynamics (CFPD). To analyze the relationship between the ceiling fan rotation speed and the aerosol distribution, a ceiling fan was operated with 160, 265 and 365 revolutions per minute (RPM). The effect of the ceiling fan on particles was analyzed for particles of different sizes. The increasing ceiling fan rotation speed, the percentage deposition of the aerosol particles with diameters >40 μm was increased. The effect of different ventilation rates on aerosol distribution was evaluated. The increased ventilation rate, the percentage of the total aerosol particles flushed out was increased. The effectiveness of the mask in mitigating the exposure risk of airborne pathogens was also investigated. In combination with the natural ventilation and mask, the ceiling fan was demonstrated to have the potential to reduce airborne pathogen transmission in indoor spaces.
Airborne transmission has been confirmed as one of three principal ways of SARS-CoV-2 transmission. To reduce the transmission of SARS-CoV-2 indoors, understanding the distribution of respiratory droplets (or aerosols) present in human breath seems therefore important. To study whether the CO 2 concentration can be used as a proxy for the number of exhaled particles present in an occupied space, the distribution of particles with different diameters (0.3, 0.5, 1.0, 2.5, 5.0 and 10 μm) and CO 2 concentrations were monitored in a classroom setting with six healthy subjects. Additionally, numbers of particles with the same sizes were measured in the breath of the same six healthy subjects separately. Results showed that (1) on the contrary to CO 2 , the main source of indoor particles came from outdoor air, and not from occupants; (2) the impacts of ventilation regimes on indoor particle numbers were different to the impacts on CO 2 concentrations; and (3) almost no significant relationship between the number of indoor particles and CO 2 concentration was observed. Based on these results, this study could therefore not conclude that the CO 2 concentration in a classroom can be used as a proxy for the number of exhaled particles by the occupants.
Introduction: Inhalation of laser-induced smoke is a potential health hazard to exposed physicians and laser operators. To date, little is known about the perception of health hazards related to laser-induced smoke exposure among physicians and the actual use of safety measures to mitigate these risks. Methods: In May 2020, 514 members of the European Society for Lasers and Energy-Based Devices (ESLD) were invited by email to participate in an online survey. The survey comprised 16 questions including multiple-choice and open-ended questions. Results: Responses were received from 109 participants. The majority (90%) were aware of potential hazards and highlighted a desire for better protective measures (60%). A smoke evacuation system was frequently used with ablative lasers (66%) and fractional ablative lasers (61%), but less the case with non-ablative lasers (30%) and hair removal lasers (28%). The COVID-19 outbreak had no clear effect on the use of smoke evacuation systems. Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, mainly surgical masks were used (40-57%), while high filtration masks (FFP1, FFP2 or FFP3) were used by only a small percentage (15-30%). Post COVID-19 outbreak, the use of high filtration masks increased significantly (54-66%), predominately due to an increase in the use of FFP2 masks. Reasons mentioned for inadequate protective measures were sparse knowledge, limited availability, discomfort, excessive noise, high room temperatures, and financial costs. Conclusion: While there is considerable awareness of the hazards of laser-induced smoke among physicians and laser operators, a substantial number of them do not use appropriate protective measures. The implementation of regulations on safety measures is hampered by sparse knowledge, limited availability, discomfort, excessive noise, financial issues, and high room temperatures.
Air distribution system could critically affect SARS-CoV-2 transmission in indoor space; therefore, this study aims at demonstrating numerical characteristics of SARS-CoV-2 migration with varied air distribution system configurations. Seven cases were investigated regarding three major aspects: how fast suspended particles can be removed from the ventilated space or changed into deposited particles; how much particles are attached to various object surfaces which leads to an infection by touching fomite. All cases were analyzed through computational fluid dynamics (CFD). Both different shapes (round or linear diffusers) and installation locations (ceiling or floor) of inlet and outlet diffusers were investigated. Results showed that different air distribution system would lead to different dispersion profiles of infectious particles and different deposition pattern of particles on interior surfaces. With the same air flow rate, linear-diffuser would perform better for CO 2 extraction while requiring less time to remove or collide the same magnitude of suspended droplets compared to round-diffuser. However, how quickly removed or suspended droplets collide is not proportional to how less the number of total particles are remained. Two additional cases with double sized space possessing best ventilation configuration were also examined to explore potential application of the best-ventilated configuration to various spatial expansion cases.
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Significance Lack of human data on influenza virus aerosol shedding fuels debate over the importance of airborne transmission. We provide overwhelming evidence that humans generate infectious aerosols and quantitative data to improve mathematical models of transmission and public health interventions. We show that sneezing is rare and not important for—and that coughing is not required for—influenza virus aerosolization. Our findings, that upper and lower airway infection are independent and that fine-particle exhaled aerosols reflect infection in the lung, opened a pathway for a deeper understanding of the human biology of influenza infection and transmission. Our observation of an association between repeated vaccination and increased viral aerosol generation demonstrated the power of our method, but needs confirmation.
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Background Questions remain about the degree to which aerosols are generated during routine patient care activities and whether such aerosols could transmit viable pathogens to healthcare personnel (HCP). The objective of this study was to measure aerosol production during multiple patient care activities and to examine the samples for bacterial pathogens. Methods Five aerosol characterization instruments were used to measure aerosols during 7 patient care activities: patient bathing, changing bed linens, pouring and flushing liquid waste, bronchoscopy, noninvasive ventilation, and nebulized medication administration (NMA). Each procedure was sampled 5 times. An SKC BioSampler was used for pathogen recovery. Bacterial cultures were performed on the sampling solution. Patients on contact precautions for drug-resistant organisms were selected for most activity sampling. Any patient undergoing bronchoscopy was eligible. Results Of 35 sampling episodes, only 2 procedures showed a significant increase in particle concentrations over baseline: NMA and bronchoscopy with NMA. Bronchoscopy without NMA and noninvasive ventilation did not generate significant aerosols. Of 78 cultures from the impinger samples, 6 of 28 baseline samples (21.4%) and 14 of 50 procedure samples (28.0%) were positive. Conclusions In this study, significant aerosol generation was only observed during NMA, both alone and during bronchoscopy. Minimal viable bacteria were recovered, mostly common environmental organisms. Although more research is needed, these data suggest that some of the procedures considered to be aerosol-generating may pose little infection risk to HCP.
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The occurrence of close proximity infection for many respiratory diseases is often cited as evidence of large droplet and/or close contact transmission. We explored interpersonal exposure of exhaled droplets and droplet nuclei of two standing thermal manikins as affected by distance, humidity, ventilation and breathing mode. Under the specific set of conditions studied, we found a substantial increase in airborne exposure to droplet nuclei exhaled by the source manikin when a susceptible manikin is within about 1.5 m of the source manikin, referred to as the proximity effect. The threshold distance of about 1.5 m distinguishes the two basic transmission processes of droplets and droplet nuclei, i.e. short-range modes and the long range airborne route. The short range modes include both the conventional large droplet route and the newly defined short range airborne transmission. We thus reveal that transmission occurring in close proximity to the source patient includes both droplet-borne (large droplet) and short-range airborne routes, in addition to the direct deposition of large droplets on other body surfaces. The mechanisms of the droplet-borne and short-range airborne routes are different; their effective control methods also differ. Neither the current droplet precautions nor dilution ventilation prevent short-range airborne transmission, so new control methods are needed. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.
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Background: In order to prepare for a possible influenza pandemic, a better understanding of the potential for airborne transmission of influenza from person to person is needed. Objectives: The objective of this study was to directly compare the generation of aerosol particles containing viable influenza virus during coughs and exhalations. Methods: Sixty-one adult volunteer outpatients with influenza-like symptoms were asked to cough and exhale three times into a spirometer. Aerosol particles produced during coughing and exhalation were collected into liquid media using aerosol samplers. The samples were tested for the presence of viable influenza virus using a viral replication assay (VRA). Results: Fifty-three test subjects tested positive for influenza A virus. Of these, 28 (53%) produced aerosol particles containing viable influenza A virus during coughing, and 22 (42%) produced aerosols with viable virus during exhalation. Thirteen subjects had both cough aerosol and exhalation aerosol samples that contained viable virus, 15 had positive cough aerosol samples but negative exhalation samples, and 9 had positive exhalation samples but negative cough samples. Conclusions: Viable influenza A virus was detected more often in cough aerosol particles than in exhalation aerosol particles, but the difference was not large. Since individuals breathe much more often than they cough, these results suggest that breathing may generate more airborne infectious material than coughing over time. However, both respiratory activities could be important in airborne influenza transmission. Our results are also consistent with the theory that much of the aerosol containing viable influenza originates deep in the lungs. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.
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Background: Aerosols and droplets are produced during many dental procedures. With the advent of the droplet-spread disease severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, a review of the infection control procedures for aerosols is warranted. Types of studies reviewed: The authors reviewed representative medical and dental literature for studies and reports that documented the spread of disease through an airborne route. They also reviewed the dental literature for representative studies of contamination from various dental procedures and methods of reducing airborne contamination from those procedures. Results: The airborne spread of measles, tuberculosis and SARS is well-documented in the medical literature. The dental literature shows that many dental procedures produce aerosols and droplets that are contaminated with bacteria and blood. These aerosols represent a potential route for disease transmission. The literature also documents that airborne contamination can be minimized easily and inexpensively by layering several infection control steps into the routine precautions used during all dental procedures. Clinical implications: In addition to the routine use of standard barriers such as masks and gloves, the universal use of preprocedural rinses and high-volume evacuation is recommended.
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Background: The potential for human influenza viruses to spread through fine particle aerosols remains controversial. The objective of our study was to determine whether influenza viruses could be detected in fine particles in hospital rooms. Methods and findings: We sampled the air in 2-bed patient isolation rooms for four hours, placing cyclone samplers at heights of 1.5m and 1.0m. We collected ten air samples each in the presence of at least one patient with confirmed influenza A virus infection, and tested the samples by reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction. We recovered influenza A virus RNA from 5/10 collections (50%); 4/5 were from particles>4 μm, 1/5 from 1-4 μm, and none in particles<1 μm. Conclusions: Detection of influenza virus RNA in aerosols at low concentrations in patient rooms suggests that healthcare workers and visitors might have frequent exposure to airborne influenza virus in proximity to infected patients. A limitation of our study was the small sample size. Further studies should be done to quantify the concentration of viable influenza virus in healthcare settings, and factors affecting the detection of influenza viruses in fine particles in the air.
Background: Since the 2003 severe acute respiratory syndrome epidemic, scientific exploration of infection control is no longer restricted to microbiologists or medical scientists. Many studies have reported on the release, transport, and exposure of expiratory droplets because of respiratory activities. This review focuses on the airborne spread of infectious agents from mucus to mucus in the indoor environment and their spread as governed by airflows in the respiratory system, around people, and in buildings at different transport stages. Methods: We critically review the literature on the release of respiratory droplets, their transport and dispersion in the indoor environment, and the ultimate exposure of a susceptible host, as influenced by airflows. Results: These droplets or droplet nuclei are transported by expired airflows, which are sometimes affected by the human body plume and use of a face mask, as well as room airflow. Room airflow is affected by human activities such as walking and door opening, and some droplets are eventually captured by a susceptible individual because of his or her inspired flows; such exposure can eventually lead to long-range spread of airborne pathogens. Direct exposure to the expired fine droplets or droplet nuclei results in short-range airborne transmission. Deposition of droplets and direct personal exposure to expired large droplets can lead to the fomite route and the droplet-borne route, respectively. Conclusions: We have shown the opportunities for infection control at different stages of the spread. We propose that the short-range airborne route may be important in close contact, and its control may be achieved by face masks for the source patients and use of personalized ventilation. Our discussion of the effect of thermal stratification and expiratory delivery of droplets leads to the suggestion that displacement ventilation may not be applicable to hospital rooms where respiratory infection is a concern.
Background: The largest outbreak of Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) outside the Middle East occurred in South Korea in 2015 and resulted in 186 laboratory-confirmed infections, including 36 (19%) deaths. Some hospitals were considered epicenters of infection and voluntarily shut down most of their operations after nearly half of all transmissions occurred in hospital settings. However, the ways that MERS-coronavirus (MERS-CoV) is transmitted in healthcare settings are not well defined. Methods: We explored the possible contribution of contaminated hospital air and surfaces to MERS transmission by collecting air and swabbing environmental surfaces in two hospitals treating MERS-CoV patients. The samples were tested by viral culture with reverse-transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) and immunofluorescence assay (IFA) using MERS-CoV Spike antibody, and electron microscopy (EM). Results: The presence of MERS-CoV was confirmed by RT-PCR of viral cultures of four out of seven air samples from two patients' rooms, one patient's restroom, and one common corridor. In addition, MERS-CoV was detected in 15 of 68 surface swabs by viral cultures. IFA on the cultures of the air and swab samples revealed the presence of MERS-CoV. EM images also revealed intact particles of MERS-CoV in viral cultures of the air and swab samples. Conclusions: These data provide experimental evidence for extensive viable MERS-CoV contamination of the air and surrounding materials in MERS outbreak units. Thus our findings call for epidemiologic investigation of the possible scenarios for contact and airborne transmission, and raise concern regarding the adequacy of current infection control procedures.
Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) is not efficiently transmitted between humans, but it is highly prevalent in dromedary camels. Here we report that the MERS-CoV receptor-dipeptidyl peptidase 4 (DPP4)-is expressed in the upper respiratory tract epithelium of camels but not in that of humans. Lack of DPP4 expression may be the primary cause of limited MERS-CoV replication in the human upper respiratory tract and hence restrict transmission. © 2016, American Society for Microbiology. All Rights Reserved.