Absence of detectable influenza RNA transmitted via aerosol during various human respiratory activities -experiments from Singapore and Hong Kong

Julian W. Tang, Caroline X. Gao, Benjamin J Cowling, Gerald Choon Huat Koh, Daniel K W Chu, Cherie Heilbronn, Belinda Lloyd, Jovan Pantelic, Andre D. Nicolle, Christian A. Klettner, J. S. Malik Peiris, Chandra Sekhar, David K.W. Cheong, Kwok Wai Tham, Evelyn S C Koay, Wendy Tsui, Alfred Kwong, Kitty Chan, Yuguo Li

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Two independent studies by two separate research teams (from Hong Kong and Singapore) failed to detect any influenza RNA landing on, or inhaled by, a life-like, human manikin target, after exposure to naturally influenza-infected volunteers. For the Hong Kong experiments, 9 influenza-infected volunteers were recruited to breathe, talk/count and cough, from 0.1 m and 0.5 m distance, onto a mouth-breathing manikin. Aerosolised droplets exhaled from the volunteers and entering the manikin's mouth were collected with PTFE filters and an aerosol sampler, in separate experiments. Virus detection was performed using an in-house influenza RNA reverse-transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) assay. No influenza RNA was detected from any of the PTFE filters or air samples. For the Singapore experiments, 6 influenza-infected volunteers were asked to breathe (nasal/mouth breathing), talk (counting in English/second language), cough (from 1 m/0.1 m away) and laugh, onto a thermal, breathing manikin. The manikin's face was swabbed at specific points (around both eyes, the nostrils and the mouth) before and after exposure to each of these respiratory activities, and was cleaned between each activity with medical grade alcohol swabs. Shadowgraph imaging was used to record the generation of these respiratory aerosols from the infected volunteers and their impact onto the target manikin. No influenza RNA was detected from any of these swabs with either team's in-house diagnostic influenza assays. All the influenza-infected volunteers had diagnostic swabs taken at recruitment that confirmed influenza (A/H1, A/H3 or B) infection with high viral loads, ranging from 105-108 copies/mL (Hong Kong volunteers/assay) and 104-107 copies/mL influenza viral RNA (Singapore volunteers/assay). These findings suggest that influenza RNA may not be readily transmitted from naturally-infected human source to susceptible recipients via these natural respiratory activities, within these exposure time-frames. Various reasons are discussed in an attempt to explain these findings.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0107338
Pages (from-to)1-9
Number of pages9
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2014

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