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Airborne infection

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      Abstract

      Respiratory secretions from a patient with an infection of the respiratory tract contaminate surrounding surfaces and also become suspended in the air after coughing, sneezing, spitting and other respiratory acts. Small respiratory droplets evaporate in the air and become tiny droplet nuclei. These disperse throughout the air of enclosed spaces, such as rooms and buildings, and are believed to be responsible for the epidemic spread of many respiratory tract infections. Epidemiologic studies implicate the droplet nucleus mechanism in the transmission of tuberculosis, measles, influenza and smallpox. The expected pattern of spread by droplet nuclei can be expressed in mathematical terms by applying simple principles and reasonable assumptions. The mathematical model reduces to the law of mass action in epidemiology, defines the components of the effective contact rate and is compatible with the epidemic pattern of measles. Ultraviolet air disinfection, which reduces the concentration of viable airborne droplet nuclei without affecting other mechanisms of transmission, is an important technic for identifying droplet nucleus-borne infections and is a potentially important technic for environmental control of airborne infection. More information is needed on the specific susceptibility to ultraviolet of various respiratory pathogens and on the effectiveness of air disinfection systems in hospitals.
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