Detection of airborne severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) coronavirus and environmental contamination in SARS outbreak units

J Infect Dis. 2005 May 1;191(9):1472-7. doi: 10.1086/429634. Epub 2005 Mar 18.


Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) is characterized by a risk of nosocomial transmission; however, the risk of airborne transmission of SARS is unknown. During the Toronto outbreaks of SARS, we investigated environmental contamination in SARS units, by employing novel air sampling and conventional surface swabbing. Two polymerase chain reaction (PCR)-positive air samples were obtained from a room occupied by a patient with SARS, indicating the presence of the virus in the air of the room. In addition, several PCR-positive swab samples were recovered from frequently touched surfaces in rooms occupied by patients with SARS (a bed table and a television remote control) and in a nurses' station used by staff (a medication refrigerator door). These data provide the first experimental confirmation of viral aerosol generation by a patient with SARS, indicating the possibility of airborne droplet transmission, which emphasizes the need for adequate respiratory protection, as well as for strict surface hygiene practices.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Air Microbiology*
  • Canada / epidemiology
  • Disease Outbreaks
  • Humans
  • Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome / epidemiology
  • Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome / transmission*
  • Severe acute respiratory syndrome-related coronavirus / genetics
  • Severe acute respiratory syndrome-related coronavirus / isolation & purification*