Virus-laden droplet nuclei in vortical structures associated with recirculation zones in indoor environments: A possible airborne transmission of SARS-CoV-2

Environ Adv. 2023 Jul;12:100376. doi: 10.1016/j.envadv.2023.100376. Epub 2023 May 6.


Droplet nuclei dispersion patterns in indoor environments are reviewed from a physics view to explore the possibility of airborne transmission of SARS-CoV-2. This review analyzes works on particle dispersion patterns and their concentration in vortical structures in different indoor environments. Numerical simulations and experiments reveal the formation of the buildings' recirculation zones and vortex flow regions by flow separation, airflow interaction around objects, internal dispersion of airflow, or thermal plume. These vortical structures showed high particle concentration because particles are trapped for long periods. Then a hypothesis is proposed to explain why some medical studies detect the presence of SARS-CoV-2 and others do not detect the virus. The hypothesis proposes that airborne transmission is possible if virus-laden droplet nuclei are trapped in vortical structures associated with recirculation zones. This hypothesis is reinforced by a numerical study in a restaurant that presented possible evidence of airborne transmission by a large recirculating air zone. Furthermore, a medical study in a hospital is discussed from a physical view for identifying the formation of recirculation zones and their relation with positive tests for viruses. The observations show air sampling site located in this vortical structure is positive for the SARS-CoV-2 RNA. Therefore, the formation of vortical structures associated with recirculation zones should be avoided to minimize the possibility of airborne transmission. This work tries to understand the complex phenomenon of airborne transmission as a way in the prevention of transmission of infectious diseases.

Keywords: Airborne transmission; COVID-19; Indoor environment; Particle concentration; Recirculation zones; SARS-CoV-2; Virus-laden droplet nuclei; Vortical structures.

Publication types

  • Review