Environmental Stability of Enveloped Viruses Is Impacted by Initial Volume and Evaporation Kinetics of Droplets

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American Society for Microbiology

Efficient spread of respiratory viruses requires the virus to maintain infectivity in the environment. Environmental stability of viruses can be influenced by many factors, including temperature and humidity. Our study measured the impact of initial droplet volume (50, 5, and 1 mu L) and relative humidity (RH; 40%, 65%, and 85%) on the stability of influenza A virus, bacteriophage Phi6 (a common surrogate for enveloped viruses), and severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) under a limited set of conditions. Our data suggest that the drying time required for the droplets to reach quasi-equilibrium (i.e., a plateau in mass) varied with RH and initial droplet volume. The macroscale physical characteristics of the droplets at quasi-equilibrium varied with RH but not with the initial droplet volume. Virus decay rates differed between the wet phase, while the droplets were still evaporating, and the dry phase. For Phi6, decay was faster in the wet phase than in the dry phase under most conditions. For H1N1pdm09, decay rates between the two phases were distinct and initial droplet volume had an effect on virus viability within 2 h. Importantly, we observed differences in virus decay characteristics by droplet size and virus. In general, influenza virus and SARS-CoV-2 decayed similarly, whereas Phi6 decayed more rapidly under certain conditions. Overall, this study suggests that virus decay in media is related to the extent of droplet evaporation, which is controlled by RH. Importantly, accurate assessment of transmission risk requires the use of physiologically relevant droplet volumes and careful consideration of the use of surrogates. IMPORTANCE During the COVID-19 pandemic, policy decisions were being driven by virus stability experiments with SARS-CoV-2 in different droplet volumes under various humidity conditions. Our study, the first of its kind, provides a model for the decay of multiple enveloped RNA viruses in cell culture medium deposited in 50-, 5-, and 1-mu L droplets at 40%, 65%, and 85% RH over time. The results of our study indicate that determination of half-lives for emerging pathogens in large droplets may overestimate transmission risk for contaminated surfaces, as observed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Our study implicates the need for the use of physiologically relevant droplet sizes with use of relevant surrogates in addition to what is already known about the importance of physiologically relevant media for risk assessment of future emerging pathogens.

influenza, SARS-CoV-2, survival, stability, persistence, droplets, volume, size, droplet volume, influenza virus, virus decay, virus stability