Inhalation of expiratory droplets in aircraft cabins

Authors

  • J. K. Gupta,

    1. National Air Transportation Center of Excellence for Research in the Intermodal Transport Environment (RITE), School of Mechanical Engineering, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN, USA
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  • C-H. Lin,

    1. Environmental Control Systems, Boeing Commercial Airplanes, Everett, WA, USA
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  • Q. Chen

    1. National Air Transportation Center of Excellence for Research in the Intermodal Transport Environment (RITE), School of Mechanical Engineering, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN, USA
    2. School of Environmental Science and Technology, Tianjin University, Tianjin, China
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Q. Chen
School of Mechanical Engineering
Purdue University
West Lafayette, IN 47907-2088
USA
Tel.: (765) 496-7562
Fax: (765) 496-0539
e-mail: yanchen@purdue.edu

Abstract

Abstract  Airliner cabins have high occupant density and long exposure time, so the risk of airborne infection transmission could be high if one or more passengers are infected with an airborne infectious disease. The droplets exhaled by an infected passenger may contain infectious agents. This study developed a method to predict the amount of expiratory droplets inhaled by the passengers in an airliner cabin for any flight duration. The spatial and temporal distribution of expiratory droplets for the first 3 min after the exhalation from the index passenger was obtained using the computational fluid dynamics simulations. The perfectly mixed model was used for beyond 3 min after the exhalation. For multiple exhalations, the droplet concentration in a zone can be obtained by adding the droplet concentrations for all the exhalations until the current time with a time shift via the superposition method. These methods were used to determine the amount of droplets inhaled by the susceptible passengers over a 4-h flight under three common scenarios. The method, if coupled with information on the viability and the amount of infectious agent in the droplet, can aid in evaluating the infection risk.

Practical Implications

The distribution of the infectious agents contained in the expiratory droplets of an infected occupant in an indoor environment is transient and non-uniform. The risk of infection can thus vary with time and space. The investigations developed methods to predict the spatial and temporal distribution of expiratory droplets, and the inhalation of these droplets in an aircraft cabin. The methods can be used in other indoor environments to assess the relative risk of infection in different zones, and suitable measures to control the spread of infection can be adopted. Appropriate treatment can be implemented for the zone identified as high-risk zones.

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