Assessment of influenza virus exposure and recovery from contaminated surgical masks and N95 respirators

J Virol Methods. 2018 Oct;260:98-106. doi: 10.1016/j.jviromet.2018.05.009. Epub 2018 Jul 17.


Healthcare workers (HCWs) are at significantly higher risk of exposure to influenza virus during seasonal epidemics and global pandemics. During the 2009 influenza pandemic, some healthcare organizations recommended that HCWs wear respiratory protection such as filtering facepiece respirators, while others indicated that facemasks such as surgical masks (SMs) were sufficient. To assess the level of exposure a HCW may possibly encounter, the aim of this study was to (1.) evaluate if SMs and N95 respirators can serve as "personal bioaerosol samplers" for influenza virus and (2.) determine if SMs and N95 respirators contaminated by influenza laden aerosols can serve as a source of infectious virus for indirect contact transmission. This effort is part of a National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health 5-year multidisciplinary study to determine the routes of influenza transmission in healthcare settings. A coughing simulator was programmed to cough aerosol particles containing influenza virus over a wide concentration range into an aerosol exposure simulation chamber virus/L of exam room air), and a breathing simulator was used to collect virus on either a SM or N95 respirator. Extraction buffers containing nonionic and anionic detergents as well as various protein additives were used to recover influenza virus from the masks and respirators. The inclusion of 0.1% SDS resulted in maximal influenza RNA recovery (41.3%) but with a complete loss of infectivity whereas inclusion of 0.1% bovine serum albumin resulted in reduced RNA recovery (6.8%) but maximal retention of virus infectivity (17.9%). Our results show that a HCW's potential exposure to airborne influenza virus can be assessed in part through analysis of their SMs and N95 respirators, which can effectively serve as personal bioaerosol samplers.

Keywords: Aerosol transmission; Healthcare worker; Influenza A; PPE contamination; Quantitative PCR; Virus extraction.

MeSH terms

  • Aerosols
  • Animals
  • Dogs
  • Health Personnel*
  • Humans
  • Influenza A virus / drug effects*
  • Influenza A virus / genetics
  • Influenza, Human / prevention & control
  • Influenza, Human / transmission*
  • Madin Darby Canine Kidney Cells
  • Masks / virology*
  • Occupational Exposure*
  • Particle Size
  • RNA, Viral / drug effects
  • RNA, Viral / genetics
  • Respiratory Protective Devices / virology*
  • Serum Albumin, Bovine / pharmacology
  • Sodium Dodecyl Sulfate / pharmacology
  • Surface-Active Agents / pharmacology


  • Aerosols
  • RNA, Viral
  • Surface-Active Agents
  • Serum Albumin, Bovine
  • Sodium Dodecyl Sulfate