Size distribution of virus laden droplets from expiratory ejecta of infected subjects

Aerosol mediated infection transfer, is largely governed by the size distributions of virus laden droplets, termed as virusols in this work, ejected from humans. We expand on the well-known theory of Poisson fluctuations which acts as statistical barrier against formation of virusols.

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For rebooting economic activities in the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic scenario, it is important to pay detailed attention to infection transfer mechanisms during interaction of people in enclosed environments. Utmost concern is the possibility of aerosol mediated infection transfer, which is largely governed by the size distributions of virus laden droplets, termed as virusols in this work, ejected from humans. We expand on the well-known theory of Poisson fluctuations which acts as statistical barrier against formation of virusols. Analysis suggests that for viral loads < 2 × 105 RNA copies/mL, often corresponding to mild-to-moderate cases of COVID-19, droplets of diameter < 20 µm at the time of emission (equivalent to ~ 10 µm desiccated residue diameter) are unlikely to be of consequence in carrying infections. Cut-off diameters below which droplets will be practically free of contamination, are presented as a function of viral loading. The median diameters of virus laden polydisperse droplet distributions will be 1.5 to 20 times higher depending upon the geometric standard deviation. The studies have implications to risk assessment as well as residence time estimates of airborne infections in indoor environments. Additionally, it will be also helpful for performance evaluation of sanitization and control technologies to mitigate infection risks in workplaces.

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By combining the available data from the current literature on viral loading in different patients with the recent observation on its relationship with disease severity, it is argued that formation of virusols, which will remain stable for certain length of time as well as which are inhalable by humans, (i.e. droplets less than 20 μm) is virtually inhibited in mild-to-moderate cases of patients. Virusol formation and consequent infection transfer could be important for explicitly severe cases, that too for droplet sizes above 2 µm (prior to evaporation). Hence, for an effective control measure using filtration based air cleaners, it may not be necessary to worry about ultrafine particle filtration. This somewhat relaxes the constraint on the filtration efficiency as relatively coarser filters will be efficient in capturing larger particles. As a result, flow resistances can be significantly lowered thereby enabling higher Clean Air Delivery Rates. Furthermore, the finding of a significant upward shift in virusol sizes, implies that their residence times in indoor spaces will be considerably lower than other droplets ejected from humans. This will greatly help in providing a realistic assessment of air borne infection transfers in indoor environments.

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S ANAND

Scientific Officer-G, Bhabha Atomic Research Centre