Journal of Hygiene

Research Article

The size and the duration of air-carriage of respiratory droplets and droplet-nuclei

J. P. Duguida1

a1 From The Department of Bacteriology, Edinburgh University

1. The sizes of the droplets and droplet-nuclei produced by sneezing, by coughing and by speaking, were studied by the microscopic measurement of 12,000 droplet stain-marks found on slides exposed directly to mouth-spray, and of 21,000 stain-containing droplet-nuclei recovered from the air on to oiled slides exposed in the slit sampler.

2. From these measurements it was calculated that the original diameters of the respiratory droplets ranged from 1 to 2000 μ, that 95 % were between 2 and 100 μ and that the most common were between 4 and 8 μ. Similar size distributions were exhibited by the droplets produced in sneezing, in coughing and in speaking, except that, in the case of sneezing, the smaller droplets were relatively more numerous.

3. The respiratory droplet-nuclei were found to range in diameter from ¼ to 42 μ; 97 % had diameters between ½ and 12μ; the commonest diameter was between 1 and 2 μ.

4. The proportion of droplets of each size which will contain bacteria, whether commensal or pathogenic, is determined by the size of the droplets and by the numbers of bacteria in the secretions atomized. Calculations made on the basis of the size distributions obtained in this investigation indicated that few of the smaller droplets, and thus few of the droplet-nuclei, are likely to contain pathogenic organisms. Droplet-spray is unlikely to give rise directly to true airborne infection unless very large numbers of pathogenic organisms are present in the secretions of the anterior mouth.

5. The persistence of droplet-nuclei in the air of a 1700 cu.ft. room and of a 70 cu.ft. chamber was investigated by sampling the air with the slit sampler at intervals following sneezing.

6. When the air was not artificially disturbed by a fan, the time taken for the disappearance from the air of 90% of the bacteria-carrying droplet-nuclei varied from 30 to 60 min.; the nuclei larger than 8 μ in diameter usually disappeared within 20 min., and the nuclei larger than 4 μ within 90 min.; the smaller nuclei, few of which contained bacteria, remained airborne for much longer periods, on one occasion for at least 30 hr. When a fan was run throughout the experiment, the nuclei disappeared from the air much more rapidly.

(Received September 24 1945)