The major transmission route for SARS-CoV-2 is airborne. However, previous studies could not elucidate the contribution between large droplets and aerosol transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and its variants. Here, we designed and validated an optimized transmission caging setup, which allows for the assessment of aerosol transmission efficiency at various distances. At a distance of 2 m, only particles of <5 μm traversed between cages. Using this setup, we investigated the relative efficiency of aerosol transmission between the SARS-CoV-2 Alpha variant (B.1.1.7) and lineage A in Syrian hamsters. Aerosol transmission of both variants was confirmed in all sentinels after 24 h of exposure as demonstrated by respiratory virus shedding and seroconversion. Productive transmission also occurred after 1 h of exposure, highlighting the efficiency of this transmission route. Interestingly, after donors were infected with a mix of both variants, the Alpha variant outcompeted the lineage A variant in an airborne transmission chain. Overall, these data indicate that a lower infectious dose of the Alpha variant, compared to lineage A, could be sufficient for successful transmission. This highlights the continuous need to assess emerging variants and the development for pre-emptive transmission mitigation strategies.
© 2022. This is a U.S. government work and not under copyright protection in the U.S.; foreign copyright protection may apply.