SARS-CoV and SARS-CoV-2 are transmitted through the air between ferrets over more than one meter distance

Nat Commun. 2021 Mar 12;12(1):1653. doi: 10.1038/s41467-021-21918-6.


SARS-CoV-2 emerged in late 2019 and caused a pandemic, whereas the closely related SARS-CoV was contained rapidly in 2003. Here, an experimental set-up is used to study transmission of SARS-CoV and SARS-CoV-2 through the air between ferrets over more than a meter distance. Both viruses cause a robust productive respiratory tract infection resulting in transmission of SARS-CoV-2 to two of four indirect recipient ferrets and SARS-CoV to all four. A control pandemic A/H1N1 influenza virus also transmits efficiently. Serological assays confirm all virus transmission events. Although the experiments do not discriminate between transmission via small aerosols, large droplets and fomites, these results demonstrate that SARS-CoV and SARS-CoV-2 can remain infectious while traveling through the air. Efficient virus transmission between ferrets is in agreement with frequent SARS-CoV-2 outbreaks in mink farms. Although the evidence for virus transmission via the air between humans under natural conditions is absent or weak for SARS-CoV and SARS-CoV-2, ferrets may represent a sensitive model to study interventions aimed at preventing virus transmission.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aerosols
  • Air Microbiology*
  • Amino Acid Substitution
  • Animal Fur / virology
  • Animals
  • COVID-19 / transmission*
  • COVID-19 / virology
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Female
  • Ferrets / virology*
  • Fomites / virology
  • Influenza A Virus, H1N1 Subtype
  • Models, Biological
  • Orthomyxoviridae Infections / transmission
  • Polymorphism, Single Nucleotide
  • SARS Virus*
  • SARS-CoV-2* / genetics
  • Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome / transmission*
  • Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome / virology
  • Time Factors
  • Viral Load
  • Viral Zoonoses / transmission
  • Viral Zoonoses / virology
  • Virus Shedding


  • Aerosols