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PLoS By Category | Recent PLoS Articles
Chemistry - Infectious Diseases - Respiratory Medicine - Virology

A Comprehensive Breath Plume Model for Disease Transmission via Expiratory Aerosols
Published: Tuesday, May 15, 2012
Author: Siobhan K. Halloran et al.

by Siobhan K. Halloran, Anthony S. Wexler, William D. Ristenpart

The peak in influenza incidence during wintertime in temperate regions represents a longstanding, unresolved scientific question. One hypothesis is that the efficacy of airborne transmission via aerosols is increased at lower humidities and temperatures, conditions that prevail in wintertime. Recent work with a guinea pig model by Lowen et al. indicated that humidity and temperature do modulate airborne influenza virus transmission, and several investigators have interpreted the observed humidity dependence in terms of airborne virus survivability. This interpretation, however, neglects two key observations: the effect of ambient temperature on the viral growth kinetics within the animals, and the strong influence of the background airflow on transmission. Here we provide a comprehensive theoretical framework for assessing the probability of disease transmission via expiratory aerosols between test animals in laboratory conditions. The spread of aerosols emitted from an infected animal is modeled using dispersion theory for a homogeneous turbulent airflow. The concentration and size distribution of the evaporating droplets in the resulting “Gaussian breath plume” are calculated as functions of position, humidity, and temperature. The overall transmission probability is modeled with a combination of the time-dependent viral concentration in the infected animal and the probability of droplet inhalation by the exposed animal downstream. We demonstrate that the breath plume model is broadly consistent with the results of Lowen et al., without invoking airborne virus survivability. The results also suggest that, at least for guinea pigs, variation in viral kinetics within the infected animals is the dominant factor explaining the increased transmission probability observed at lower temperatures.
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