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Airborne Influenza A Virus Exposure in an Elementary School

Influenza contributes significantly to childhood morbidity and mortality. Given the magnitude of the school-aged child population, a sizeable proportion of influenza virus transmission events are expected to occur within school settings. However, influenza virus activity in schools is not well-understood, likely due to our limited ability to accurately monitor for respiratory viruses without disrupting the school environment. In this study, we evaluated the use of a bioaerosol sampling method to noninvasively detect and quantify airborne influenza A virus (IAV) densities in a public elementary school. Air samples were collected from multiple locations in the school, two days per week, throughout an eight-week sampling period during influenza season. Real-time RT-PCR targeting the IAV M gene revealed detectable IAV on five occasions in densities ranging from 2.0 × 10-1 to 1.9 × 104. No significant differences in IAV densities were related to student presence/absence. The majority of IAV-associated particles were ≤4 μm in diameter, and theoretical calculations indicate infectious thresholds after minutes of exposure. Our study represents the first identification and quantification of airborne influenza virus in an elementary school, and the results suggest that airborne IAV has the potential to circulate in schools during influenza season, in large enough doses known to cause infection.

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