Airborne transmission of biological agents within the indoor built environment: a multidisciplinary review

Air Qual Atmos Health. 2023;16(3):477-533. doi: 10.1007/s11869-022-01286-w. Epub 2022 Nov 28.


The nature and airborne dispersion of the underestimated biological agents, monitoring, analysis and transmission among the human occupants into building environment is a major challenge of today. Those agents play a crucial role in ensuring comfortable, healthy and risk-free conditions into indoor working and leaving spaces. It is known that ventilation systems influence strongly the transmission of indoor air pollutants, with scarce information although to have been reported for biological agents until 2019. The biological agents' source release and the trajectory of airborne transmission are both important in terms of optimising the design of the heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems of the future. In addition, modelling via computational fluid dynamics (CFD) will become a more valuable tool in foreseeing risks and tackle hazards when pollutants and biological agents released into closed spaces. Promising results on the prediction of their dispersion routes and concentration levels, as well as the selection of the appropriate ventilation strategy, provide crucial information on risk minimisation of the airborne transmission among humans. Under this context, the present multidisciplinary review considers four interrelated aspects of the dispersion of biological agents in closed spaces, (a) the nature and airborne transmission route of the examined agents, (b) the biological origin and health effects of the major microbial pathogens on the human respiratory system, (c) the role of heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems in the airborne transmission and (d) the associated computer modelling approaches. This adopted methodology allows the discussion of the existing findings, on-going research, identification of the main research gaps and future directions from a multidisciplinary point of view which will be helpful for substantial innovations in the field.

Keywords: Airborne transmission; Bioaerosols; Building ventilation; CFD models; Droplets; Indoor air quality.

Publication types

  • Review