The epidemics of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in 2003 highlighted both short- and long-range transmission routes, i.e. between infected patients and healthcare workers, and between distant locations. With other infections such as tuberculosis, measles and chickenpox, the concept of aerosol transmission is so well accepted that isolation of such patients is the norm. With current concerns about a possible approaching influenza pandemic, the control of transmission via infectious air has become more important. Therefore, the aim of this review is to describe the factors involved in: (1) the generation of an infectious aerosol, (2) the transmission of infectious droplets or droplet nuclei from this aerosol, and (3) the potential for inhalation of such droplets or droplet nuclei by a susceptible host. On this basis, recommendations are made to improve the control of aerosol-transmitted infections in hospitals as well as in the design and construction of future isolation facilities.