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The transmission of airborne pathogens is considered to be the main route through which a number of known and emerging respiratory diseases infect their hosts. While physical distancing and mask wearing may help mitigate short-range transmission, the extent of long-range transmission in closed spaces where a pathogen remains suspended in the air remains unknown. We have developed a method to detect viable virus particles by using an aerosolized bacteriophage Phi6 in combination with its host Pseudomonas phaseolicola, which when seeded on agar plates acts as a virus detector that can be placed at a range of distances away from an aerosol-generating source. By applying this method, we consistently detected viable phage particles at distances of up to 18 feet away from the source within 15 min of exposure in a classroom equipped with a state of the art HVAC system and determined that increasing the relative humidity beyond 40% significantly reduces dispersal. Our method, which can be further modified for use with other virus/host combinations, quantifies airborne transmission in the built environment and can thus be used to set safety standards for room capacity and to ascertain the efficacy of interventions in closed spaces of specified sizes and intended uses.


Originally published as: Skanata, Antun, Fabrizio Spagnolo, Molly Metz, Davida S. Smyth, John J. Dennehy. "Humidity Reduces Rapid and Distant Airborne Dispersal of Viable Viral Particles in Classroom Settings." Environmental Science and Technology Letters, vol. 9, 2022, pp. 632-637. doi: 10.1021/acs.estlett.2c00243

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