Survival of airborne MS2 bacteriophage generated from human saliva, artificial saliva, and cell culture medium

Zhili Zuo, Thomas H. Kuehn, Aschalew Z. Bekele, Sunil K. Mor, Harsha Verma, Sagar M. Goyal, Peter C. Raynor, David Y.H. Pui

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

38 Scopus citations


Laboratory studies of virus aerosols have been criticized for generating airborne viruses from artificial nebulizer suspensions (e.g., cell culture media), which do not mimic the natural release of viruses (e.g., from human saliva). The objectives of this study were to determine the effect of human saliva on the infectivity and survival of airborne virus and to compare it with those of artificial saliva and cell culture medium. A stock of MS2 bacteriophage was diluted in one of three nebulizer suspensions, aerosolized, size selected (100 to 450 nm) using a differential mobility analyzer, and collected onto gelatin filters. Uranine was used as a particle tracer. The resulting particle size distribution was measured using a scanning mobility particle sizer. The amounts of infectious virus, total virus, and fluorescence in the collected samples were determined by infectivity assays, quantitative reverse transcription-PCR (RT-PCR), and spectrofluorometry, respectively. For all nebulizer suspensions, the virus content generally followed a particle volume distribution rather than a number distribution. The survival of airborne MS2 was independent of particle size but was strongly affected by the type of nebulizer suspension. Human saliva was found to be much less protective than cell culture medium (i.e., 3% tryptic soy broth) and artificial saliva. These results indicate the need for caution when extrapolating laboratory results, which often use artificial nebulizer suspensions. To better assess the risk of airborne transmission of viral diseases in real-life situations, the use of natural suspensions such as saliva or respiratory mucus is recommended.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2796-2803
Number of pages8
JournalApplied and environmental microbiology
Issue number9
StatePublished - May 2014


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