Airborne SARS-CoV-2 in home and hospital environments investigated with a high-powered air sampler

Peter de Man, Marco A. Ortiz, P.M. Bluyssen, Stijn J. de Man, Marie-Jozé Rentmeester, Marijke van der Vliet, Evert-Jan Wils, David S.Y. Ong

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)
26 Downloads (Pure)


Background: The initial aim was to study the effects of face masks worn by recently infected individuals on the airborne spread of SARS-CoV-2, but findings motivated us to proceed with comparing the presence of SARS-CoV-2 in air samples near infected individuals at home with those near infected intensive care unit (ICU) patients. Aim: To assess the presence of SARS-CoV-2 in the air of homes of infected individuals and in ICU rooms of critically ill patients with COVID-19 who were undergoing different forms of potential aerosol-generating medical procedures. Methods: A high-volume air sampler method was developed that used a household vacuum cleaner with surgical face masks serving as sample filters. SARS-CoV-2 RNA was harvested from these filters and analysed by polymerase chain reaction. Fog experiments were performed to visualize the airflow around the air sampler. Air samples were acquired in close proximity of infected individuals, with or without wearing face masks, in their homes. Environmental air samples remote from these infected individuals were also obtained, plus samples near patients in the ICU undergoing potential aerosol-generating medical procedures. Findings: Wearing a face mask resulted in a delayed and reduced flow of the fog into the air sampler. Face masks worn by infected individuals were found to contain SARS-CoV-2 RNA in 71% of cases. SARS-CoV-2 was detected in air samples regardless of mask experiments. The proportion of positive air samples was higher in the homes (29/41; 70.7%) than in the ICU (4/17; 23.5%) (P < 0.01). Conclusion: SARS-CoV-2 RNA could be detected in air samples by using a vacuum cleaner based air sampler method. Air samples in the home environment of recently infected individuals contained SARS-CoV-2 RNA nearly three times more frequently by comparison with those obtained in ICU rooms during potential aerosol-generating medical procedures.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)126-131
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Hospital Infection
Publication statusPublished - 2022

Bibliographical note

Green Open Access added to TU Delft Institutional Repository 'You share, we take care!' - Taverne project Otherwise as indicated in the copyright section: the publisher is the copyright holder of this work and the author uses the Dutch legislation to make this work public.


  • Air sampling
  • Airborne
  • COVID-19
  • Masks
  • PCR
  • SARS-CoV-2


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