The detailed physico-chemical characteristics of respiratory droplets in ambient air, where they are subject to evaporation, are poorly understood. Changes in the concentration and phase of major components in a droplet—salt (NaCl), protein (mucin) and surfactant (dipalmitoylphosphatidylcholine)—may affect the viability of any pathogens contained within it and thus may affect the efficiency of transmission of infectious disease by droplets and aerosols. The objective of this study is to investigate the effect of relative humidity (RH) on the physico-chemical characteristics of evaporating droplets of model respiratory fluids. We labelled these components in model respiratory fluids and observed evaporating droplets suspended on a superhydrophobic surface using optical and fluorescence microscopy. When exposed to continuously decreasing RH, droplets of different model respiratory fluids assumed different morphologies. Loss of water induced phase separation as well as indication of a decrease in pH. The presence of surfactant inhibited the rapid rehydration of the non-volatile components. An enveloped virus, ϕ6, that has been proposed as a surrogate for influenza virus appeared to be homogeneously distributed throughout the dried droplet. We hypothesize that the increasing acidity and salinity in evaporating respiratory droplets may affect the structure of the virus, although at low enough RH, crystallization of the droplet components may eliminate their harmful effects.
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)
Published in Journal of the Royal Society Interface, Volume 15, Issue 139, 2018, pages 20170939-.
© 2018 The Authors.
Published by the Royal Society under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/, which permits unrestricted use, provided the original author and source are credited.
Vejerano, E. P., & Marr, L. C. (2018). Physico-chemical characteristics of evaporating respiratory fluid droplets. Journal of The Royal Society Interface, 15(139), 20170939. https://doi.org/10.1098/rsif.2017.0939