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Exhaled aerosol increases with COVID-19 infection, and risk factors of disease symptom severity

By David A. Edwards, Dennis Ausiello, Robert Langer, Jonathan Salzman, Tom Devlin, Brandon J. Beddingfield, Alyssa C Fears, Lara A Doyle-Meyers, Rachel K. Redmann, Stephanie Z. Killeen, Nicholas J Maness, Chad J Roy

Posted 02 Oct 2020
medRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2020.09.30.20199828

Coronavirus disease-19 (COVID-19) transmits by droplets generated from surfaces of airway mucus during processes of respiration within hosts infected by severe acute respiratory syndrome-coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2) virus. We studied respiratory droplet generation and exhalation in human and nonhuman primate subjects with and without COVID-19 infection to explore whether SARS-CoV-2 infection, and other changes in physiological state, translates into observable evolution of numbers and sizes of exhaled respiratory droplets in healthy and diseased subjects. In our observational cohort study of the exhaled breath particles of 74 healthy human subjects, and in our experimental infection study of eight nonhuman primates infected by aerosol with SARS-CoV-2, we found that exhaled aerosol particles increase one to three orders of magnitude with aging, high BMI, and COVID-19 infection. These variances appear to be related to changes in airway mucus surface composition and the propensity for mucus surfaces to breakup into small droplets during acts of breathing. We also observed that 20% of those participating in our human study accounted for 80% of the overall exhaled bioaerosol, reflecting a bioaerosol distribution analogous to a classical 20:80 super spreader distribution.

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