Understanding environmental and airborne routes of transmission

Lead Research Organisation: Public Health England
Department Name: UNLISTED


Understanding how the causatative agent of COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2 is spread from person-to-person is essential for outbreak control. Little is known about the environmental stability of SARS-CoV-2 and establishing if/how the environment affects the survival and/or transmissibility (spread) of the virus is an immedate research priority (as identifed by the WHO Global Research and Innovation Forum). This study will determine how long SARS-CoV-2 will survive in the air and on different types of surfaces (e.g. those found in the healthcare, domestic and community setting). Methods to effectively decontaminate these surfaces will also be investigated. Techniques will also be developed in order to develop validated sampling methods for the agent in healthcare facilities. Experiments will be carried out using specialist facilities and equipment at Public Health England and will be conducted under controlled environmental conditions (e.g. at a range of temperatures and humidities) representative of those found in different countries and/or settings. This study is essential if the transmission of SARS-CoV-2 is to be fully understood. The results obtained will clarify how environmental factors can impact the spread of the virus and will inform effective (and evidence-based) strategies and guidance for preventing and controlling infection in healthcare and non-healthcare settings worldwide.

Technical Summary

This COVID-19 Rapid Response award is jointly funded (50:50) between the Medical Research Council and the National Institute for Health Research. The figure displayed is the total award amount of the two funders combined, with each partner contributing equally towards the project.

This project is intended to provide the evidence base for environmental infection control to help control transmission in the healthcare and other environments. The following questions will be addressed Does SARS-CoV-2 survive in the aerosol state in a range of environmental conditions and for how long? Can SARS-CoV-2 survive on a range of environmental surfaces found in healthcare facilities and domestic premises and for how long? Are commonly used room decontamination systems effective at inactivating SARS-CoV-2? Are commonly used air sampling techniques capable of effectively sampling SARS-CoV-2 for subsequent analysis by PCR and plaque assay? All these questions will be addressed using fully developed published methodologies currently available at PHE Porton Down allowing the questions to be answered rapidly. The results of the studies will inform infection control practices and other linked studies carried out within healthcare facilities within the UK and internationally.
Description SDCEP Aerosol Generating Procedures in Dentistry Rapid Review
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Membership of a guideline committee
Impact The rapid review developed clear guidance on provision of dental services during the COVID-19 pandemic and was incorporated in guidance published by the Chief Dental Officers
URL https://www.sdcep.org.uk/published-guidance/covid-19-practice-recovery/rapid-review-of-agps/
Description Evaluation of the Effectiveness of Novel workplace interventions in protecting healthcare workers from virus infection
Amount £206,300 (GBP)
Funding ID COV/IOM/20/01 
Organisation Chief Scientist Office 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 04/2020 
End 11/2020
Description NCS PROTECT
Amount £13,000,000 (GBP)
Organisation Health and Safety Executive (HSE) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 08/2020 
End 12/2022
Description TRACK: Transport Risk Assessment for COVID Knowledge
Amount £1,374,632 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/V032658/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 08/2020 
End 03/2023
Title dedicated CL3 (environmental virology) laboratory 
Description As a direct result of this award and publications (and further research) arising from it, we were able to make a case for a CL3 laboratory dedicated to study the environmental stability (survival on surfaces and in the air) of respiratory (and emerging) viral pathogens. 
Type Of Material Improvements to research infrastructure 
Year Produced 2021 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact increased capability to carry out environmental virology research. This allowed us to provide major contribution to NCS PROTECT and respond to outbreaks of emerging infectious disease (e.g. mpox) providing data to inform IPC guidelines and recommendations. 
Description Development of tools to enhance national capability to study respiratory virus transmission 
Organisation University College London
Department Institute of Child Health
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Advised on techniques to be used to study aerosol transmission of SARS-CoV-2. Contributed to data analysis and conducted some validation work
Collaborator Contribution Provided access to data as part of the NCS PROTECT project. Shared protocols for isolating viable SARS-CoV-2 from infected individuals.
Impact Novel viral isolation techniques that may be used in future laboratory and/or field-based studies
Start Year 2020
Description The airborne transmission of SARS-CoV-2: investigating the generation of aerosols by infected patients 
Organisation Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We have provided equipment, validation data and technical advice and expertise. We have also provided data and contributed to data analysis. We have received samples from infected individuals and have cultured and identified respiratory bacterial isolates. Original PI (Allan Bennett) acting as PhD supervisor to student investigating the potential for aerosol transmission and environmental contamination relating to HCID
Collaborator Contribution They have shared data relating to the detection of SARS-CoV-2 during aerosol generating procedures in healthcare and the optimisation of virus recovery and culture. They analysed some of our samples via PCR (to assess S-gene dropout). Dissemination of findings (with input from our team)
Impact doi.org/10.1101/2022.10.31.514483 doi.org/10.1101/2022.09.07.22279662 As a result of this collaboration, permissions were granted for the study team (including members of our team) to study the shedding of mpox from infected individuals. Air and surface samples were taken in health and care settings using similar techniques as used previously. Papers have been published and data have contributed to IPC guidance.
Start Year 2020