Extended short-range airborne transmission of respiratory infections

J Hazard Mater. 2022 Jan 15:422:126837. doi: 10.1016/j.jhazmat.2021.126837. Epub 2021 Aug 6.


Debate and scientific inquiries regarding airborne transmission of respiratory infections such as COVID-19 and influenza continue. Health authorities including the WHO and the US CDC have recognized the airborne transmission of COVID-19 in specific settings, although the ventilation requirements remain to be determined. In this work we consider the long-range airborne transmission as an extended short-range airborne route, which reconciles the link between short- and long-range airborne routes. The effective short-range distance is defined as the distance in short range at which long-range route has the same volumetric exposure value as that due to short-range route. Our data show that a decrease in ventilation rate or room volume per person, or an increase in the ratio of the number of infected to susceptible people reduces the effective short-range distance. In a normal breathing scenario with one out of five people infected and a room volume of 12 m3 per person to ensure an effective short-range distance of 1.5 m, a ventilation rate of 10 L/s per person is needed for a duration of 2 h. Our results suggest that effective environmental prevention strategies for respiratory infections require appropriate increases in the ventilation rate while maintaining a sufficiently low occupancy. PRACTICAL IMPLICATIONS: Demonstration of the long-range airborne route as an extended short-range airborne route suggests the significant role played by building ventilation in respiratory infection exposure. The reconciliation of short- and long-range airborne transmission suggests that the commonly observed dominance of close-contact transmission is a probable evidence of short-range airborne transmission, following a separate earlier study that revealed the relative insignificance of large droplet transmission in comparison with the short-range airborne-route. Existing ventilation standards do not account for respiratory infection control, and this study presents a possible approach to account for infection under new ventilation standards.

Keywords: Airborne transmission; COVID-19; Crowding; Indoor environment; Ventilation rate.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19*
  • Humans
  • Respiratory Tract Infections*
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Ventilation