Survival of the Enveloped Virus Phi6 in Droplets as a Function of Relative Humidity, Absolute Humidity, and Temperature

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American Society for Microbiology

Infectious diseases caused by enveloped viruses, such as influenza, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), cause thousands of deaths and billions of dollars of economic losses per year. Studies have found a relationship among temperature, humidity, and influenza virus incidence, transmission, or survival; however, there are contradictory claims about whether absolute humidity (AH) or relative humidity (RH) is most important in mediating virus infectivity. Using the enveloped bacteriophage Phi6, which has been suggested as a surrogate for influenza viruses and coronaviruses, we designed a study to discern whether AH, RH, or temperature is a better predictor of virus survival in droplets. Our results show that Phi6 survived best at high (>85%) and low (<60%) RHs, with a significant decrease in infectivity at mid-range RHs (~60 to 85%). At an AH of less than 22 g · m⁻³, the loss in infectivity was less than 2 orders of magnitude; however, when the AH was greater than 22 g · m⁻³, the loss in infectivity was typically greater than 6 orders of magnitude. At a fixed RH of 75%, infectivity was very sensitive to temperature, decreasing two orders of magnitude between 19°C and 25°C. We used random forest modeling to identify the best environmental predictors for modulating virus infectivity. The model explained 83% of variation in Phi6 infectivity and suggested that RH is the most important factor in controlling virus infectivity in droplets. This research provides novel information about the complex interplay between temperature, humidity, and the survival of viruses in droplets.

Influenza, Coronavirus, SARS, MERS, Humidity