Dispersion of SARS-CoV-2 in air surrounding COVID-19-infected individuals with mild symptoms

Indoor Air. 2022 Feb;32(2):e13001. doi: 10.1111/ina.13001.


Since the beginning of the pandemic, the transmission modes of SARS-CoV-2-particularly the role of aerosol transmission-have been much debated. Accumulating evidence suggests that SARS-CoV-2 can be transmitted by aerosols, and not only via larger respiratory droplets. In this study, we quantified SARS-CoV-2 in air surrounding 14 test subjects in a controlled setting. All subjects had SARS-CoV-2 infection confirmed by a recent positive PCR test and had mild symptoms when included in the study. RT-PCR and cell culture analyses were performed on air samples collected at distances of one, two, and four meters from test subjects. Oronasopharyngeal samples were taken from consenting test subjects and analyzed by RT-PCR. Additionally, total aerosol particles were quantified during air sampling trials. Air viral concentrations at one-meter distance were significantly correlated with both viral loads in the upper airways, mild coughing, and fever. One sample collected at four-meter distance was RT-PCR positive. No samples were successfully cultured. The results reported here have potential application for SARS-CoV-2 detection and monitoring schemes, and for increasing our understanding of SARS-CoV-2 transmission dynamics. Practical implications. In this study, quantification of SARS-CoV-2 in air was performed around infected persons with mild symptoms. Such persons may go longer before they are diagnosed and may thus be a disproportionately important epidemiological group. By correlating viral concentrations in air with behavior and symptoms, we identify potential risk factors for viral dissemination in indoor environments. We also show that quantification of total aerosol particles is not a useful strategy for monitoring SARS-CoV-2 in indoor environments.

Keywords: RT-PCR; COVID-19; SARS-CoV-2; aerosol; cell culture; coronavirus.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aerosols
  • Air Microbiology*
  • Air Pollution, Indoor*
  • COVID-19* / virology
  • Humans
  • Pandemics
  • SARS-CoV-2 / isolation & purification*


  • Aerosols