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Dismantling myths on the airborne transmission of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2)

  • Tang, J.W.1
  • Bahnfleth, W.P.2
  • Bluyssen, P.M.3
  • Buonanno, G.4
  • Jimenez, J.L.5
  • Kurnitski, J.6
  • Li, Y.7
  • Miller, S.8
  • Sekhar, C.9
  • Morawska, L.10
  • Marr, L.C.11
  • Melikov, A.K.12
  • Nazaroff, W.W.13
  • Nielsen, P.V.14
  • Tellier, R.15
  • Wargocki, P.12
  • Dancer, S.J.16, 17
  • 1 Respiratory Sciences, University of Leicester, Leicester, UK
  • 2 Department of Architectural Engineering, The Pennsylvania State University, State College, PA, USA
  • 3 Faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment, Delft University of Technology, Delft, The Netherlands
  • 4 Department of Civil and Mechanical Engineering, University of Cassino and Southern Lazio, Cassino, Italy
  • 5 Department of Chemistry and CIRES, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO, USA
  • 6 REHVA Technology and Research Committee, Tallinn University of Technology, Tallinn, Estonia
  • 7 Department of Mechanical Engineering, University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, China
  • 8 Mechanical Engineering, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO, USA
  • 9 Department of Building, National University of Singapore, Singapore
  • 10 International Laboratory for Air Quality and Health, Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, QLD, Australia
  • 11 Civil and Environmental Engineering, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA, USA
  • 12 f Denmark, Kongens Lyngby, Denmark
  • 13 Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA
  • 14 Faculty of Engineering and Science, Department of Civil Engineering, Aalborg University, Aalborg, Denmark
  • 15 Department of Medicine, McGill University, Montreal, QC, Canada
  • 16 Department of Microbiology, NHS Lanarkshire, Glasgow, UK
  • 17 School of Applied Sciences, Edinburgh Napier University, Edinburgh, UK
Published Article
The Journal of Hospital Infection
The Healthcare Infection Society. Published by Elsevier Ltd.
Publication Date
Jan 13, 2021
DOI: 10.1016/j.jhin.2020.12.022
PMID: 33453351
PMCID: PMC7805396
PubMed Central
  • Review


The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has caused untold disruption throughout the world. Understanding the mechanisms for transmission of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2) is key to preventing further spread, but there is confusion over the meaning of ‘airborne’ whenever transmission is discussed. Scientific ambivalence originates from evidence published many years ago which has generated mythological beliefs that obscure current thinking. This article collates and explores some of the most commonly held dogmas on airborne transmission in order to stimulate revision of the science in the light of current evidence. Six ‘myths’ are presented, explained and ultimately refuted on the basis of recently published papers and expert opinion from previous work related to similar viruses. There is little doubt that SARS-CoV-2 is transmitted via a range of airborne particle sizes subject to all the usual ventilation parameters and human behaviour. Experts from specialties encompassing aerosol studies, ventilation, engineering, physics, virology and clinical medicine have joined together to produce this review to consolidate the evidence for airborne transmission mechanisms, and offer justification for modern strategies for prevention and control of COVID-19 in health care and the community.

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