Evaluation of residual infectivity after SARS-CoV-2 aerosol transmission in a controlled laboratory setting
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Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus type 2 (SARS-CoV-2) is mainly transmitted through respiratory droplets, aerosols, or direct contact with fomites from an infected subject. It has been reported that SARS-CoV-2 is stable and viable in aerosol up to 16 h in controlled laboratory conditions. However, the aerosolization conditions varied a lot between the studies. In this work, an experimental laboratory model of SARS-CoV-2 aerosolization was established, employing an impinger nebulizer, a cylindrical chamber for aerosol travel, and a SKC biosampler for the collection of particles. The efficiency of the system was assessed based on the molecular determination of the viral load in the nebulizer after the aerosolization and in the aerosol collected at the end of the travel. Moreover, the residual infectivity was tested in vitro on the Vero E6 cell line, through the observation of the cytopathic effect (CPE), and the quantification of the viral load in the supernatants at 7 days post inoculation (dpi). A high RNA viral load was found in the SKC biosampler after aerosolization, indicating that it was possible to transport a high virus titer through the 30-cm chamber with all the dilutions (initial 105, 104, 103 plaque forming unit—PFU/mL). At the 7 dpi, an increment of the RNA viral load was determined for the dilutions 105 and 104 PFU/mL tested, while only the initial 105 PFU/mL resulted in visible CPE. Our findings allowed us to achieve the resilience of SARS-CoV-2 in aerosol form, at a concentration comparable to those reported for clinical samples. This mode of transmission should be considered for the mitigation and preventive measures to counteract SARS-CoV-2 spreading.