Influenza virus survival in aerosols and estimates of viable virus loss resulting from aerosolization and air-sampling

Using a Collison nebulizer, aerosols of influenza (A/Udorn/307/72 H3N2) were generated within a controlled experimental chamber, from known starting virus concentrations. Air samples collected after variable suspension times were tested quantitatively using both plaque and polymerase chain reaction assays, to compare the proportion of viable virus against the amount of detectable viral RNA. These experiments showed that whereas influenza RNA copies were well preserved, the number of viable viruses decreased by a factor of 10(4)-10(5). This suggests that air-sampling studies for assessing infection control risks that detect only influenza RNA may greatly overestimate the amount of viable virus available to cause infection.