The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed critical knowledge gaps in our understanding of and a need to update the traditional view of transmission pathways for respiratory viruses. The long-standing definitions of droplet and airborne transmission do not account for the mechanisms by which virus-laden respiratory droplets and aerosols travel through the air and lead to infection. In this Review, we discuss current evidence regarding the transmission of respiratory viruses by aerosols-how they are generated, transported, and deposited, as well as the factors affecting the relative contributions of droplet-spray deposition versus aerosol inhalation as modes of transmission. Improved understanding of aerosol transmission brought about by studies of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) infection requires a reevaluation of the major transmission pathways for other respiratory viruses, which will allow better-informed controls to reduce airborne transmission.
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