Quantifying the routes of transmission for pandemic influenza

Bull Math Biol. 2008 Apr;70(3):820-67. doi: 10.1007/s11538-007-9281-2. Epub 2008 Feb 16.


Motivated by the desire to assess nonpharmaceutical interventions for pandemic influenza, we seek in this study to quantify the routes of transmission for this disease. We construct a mathematical model of aerosol (i.e., droplet-nuclei) and contact transmission of influenza within a household containing one infected. An analysis of this model in conjunction with influenza and rhinovirus data suggests that aerosol transmission is far more dominant than contact transmission for influenza. We also consider a separate model of a close expiratory event, and find that a close cough is unlikely ( approximately 1% probability) to generate traditional droplet transmission (i.e., direct deposition on the mucous membranes), although a close, unprotected and horizontally-directed sneeze is potent enough to cause droplet transmission. There are insufficient data on the frequency of close expiratory events to assess the relative importance of aerosol transmission and droplet transmission, and it is prudent to leave open the possibility that droplet transmission is important until proven otherwise. However, the rarity of close, unprotected and horizontally-directed sneezes-coupled with the evidence of significant aerosol and contact transmission for rhinovirus and our comparison of hazard rates for rhinovirus and influenza-leads us to suspect that aerosol transmission is the dominant mode of transmission for influenza.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Disease Outbreaks*
  • Disease Transmission, Infectious*
  • Family Characteristics
  • Humans
  • Influenza A Virus, H5N1 Subtype / physiology*
  • Influenza, Human / epidemiology
  • Influenza, Human / transmission*
  • Influenza, Human / virology
  • Models, Biological*