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Published Jun 2011 | PLoS ONE, 1 June 2011 | Volume 6 | Issue 6 | e21481

Dynamics of airborne influenza A viruses indoors and dependence on humidity

Yang W, Marr LC


There is mounting evidence that the aerosol transmission route plays a significant role in the spread of influenza in temperate regions and that the efficiency of this route depends on humidity.

Nevertheless, the precise mechanisms by which humidity might influence transmissibility via the aerosol route have not been elucidated.

We hypothesize that airborne concentrations of infectious influenza A viruses (IAVs) vary with humidity through its influence on virus inactivation rate and respiratory droplet size.

To gain insight into the mechanisms by which humidity might influence aerosol transmission, we modeled the size distribution and dynamics of IAVs emitted from a cough in typical residential and public settings over a relative humidity (RH) range of 10–90%.

The model incorporates the size transformation of virus-containing droplets due to evaporation and then removal by gravitational settling, ventilation, and virus inactivation. The predicted concentration of infectious IAVs in air is 2.4 times higher at 10%RH than at 90%RH after 10 min in a residential setting, and this ratio grows over time.

Settling is important for removal of large droplets containing large amounts of IAVs, while ventilation and inactivation are relatively more important for removal of IAVs associated with droplets <5 µm. The inactivation rate increases linearly with RH; at the highest RH, inactivation can remove up to 28% of IAVs in 10 min.

Humidity is an important variable in aerosol transmission of IAVs because it both induces droplet size transformation and affects IAV inactivation rates. Our model advances a mechanistic understanding of the aerosol transmission route, and results complement recent studies on the relationship between humidity and influenza's seasonality.


Maintaining a high indoor RH and ventilation rate may help reduce chances of IAV infection.

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by Dr.med. Walter Hugentobler

In this modelling study, the authors modelled the elimination time of influenza aerosols coughed in a room by combining two ventilation scenarios with the known effects of humidity on virus inactivation, droplet size distribution and setting velocity.

We learn, that humidity plays a pivotal role for the elimination of infectious aerosols from a room when the air change rate is low (around 1/h), as it is in all non-mechanically ventilated buildings. Raising RH from 10 to 50%RH shortens elimination time for >99,9% removal by 30% (100min → 70 min, see diagram A).

Virus inactivation in 50%RH, compared to 30%RH, increases removal efficiency by roughly 10%. More relevant is the humidity effect on settling (by increasing droplet diameter), since overall settling represents more than 80% of the elimination efficiency.

Ventilation is most effective for the elimination of small aerosols <5µm.

This study reinforces the need to maintaining optimal humidity levels in public premises, especially healthcare environments, where high numbers of susceptible and infectious people are living together."

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