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Review and comparison between the Wells–Riley and dose-response approaches to risk assessment of infectious respiratory diseases


C. Y. H. Chao Department of Mechanical Engineering The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology Clear Water Bay, Hong Kong China
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Abstract  Infection risk assessment is very useful in understanding the transmission dynamics of infectious diseases and in predicting the risk of these diseases to the public. Quantitative infection risk assessment can provide quantitative analysis of disease transmission and the effectiveness of infection control measures. The Wells–Riley model has been extensively used for quantitative infection risk assessment of respiratory infectious diseases in indoor premises. Some newer studies have also proposed the use of dose-response models for such purpose. This study reviews and compares these two approaches to infection risk assessment of respiratory infectious diseases. The Wells–Riley model allows quick assessment and does not require interspecies extrapolation of infectivity. Dose-response models can consider other disease transmission routes in addition to airborne route and can calculate the infectious source strength of an outbreak in terms of the quantity of the pathogen rather than a hypothetical unit. Spatial distribution of airborne pathogens is one of the most important factors in infection risk assessment of respiratory disease. Respiratory deposition of aerosol induces heterogeneous infectivity of intake pathogens and randomness on the intake dose, which are not being well accounted for in current risk models. Some suggestions for further development of the risk assessment models are proposed.

Practical Implications

This review article summarizes the strengths and limitations of the Wells–Riley and the dose-response models for risk assessment of respiratory diseases. Even with many efforts by various investigators to develop and modify the risk assessment models, some limitations still persist. This review serves as a reference for further development of infection risk assessment models of respiratory diseases. The Wells–Riley model and dose-response model offer specific advantages. Risk assessors can select the approach that is suitable to their particular conditions to perform risk assessment.