Background: SARS-CoV-2 in exhaled aerosols is considered an important contributor to the spread of COVID-19. However, characterizing the size distribution of virus-containing aerosol particles has been challenging as high concentrations of SARS-CoV-2 in exhaled air is mainly present close to symptom onset. We present a case study of a person with COVID-19 who was able to participate in extensive measurements of exhaled aerosols already on the day of symptom onset and then for the following three days. Methods: Aerosol collection was performed using an eight-stage impactor while the subject was breathing, talking and singing, for 30 min each, once every day. In addition, nasopharyngeal samples, saliva samples, room air samples and information on symptom manifestations were collected every day. Samples were analyzed by RT-qPCR for detection of SARS-CoV-2 RNA. Results: SARS-CoV-2 RNA was detected in seven of the eight particle size fractions, from 0.34 to >8.1 µm, with the highest concentrations found in 0.94–2.8 µm particles. The concentration of SARS-CoV-2 RNA was highest on the day of symptom onset, and declined for each day thereafter. Conclusion: Our data showed that 90% of the exhaled SARS-CoV-2 RNA was found in aerosol particles <4.5 µm, indicating the importance of small particles for the transmission of COVID-19 close to symptom onset. These results are important for our understanding of airborne transmission, for developing accurate models and for selecting appropriate mitigation strategies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)158-163
JournalInfectious Diseases
Issue number2
Early online date2022
Publication statusPublished - 2023

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Infectious Medicine

Free keywords

  • cascade impactor
  • COVID-19
  • exhaled aerosol
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • size distribution


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