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Many airborne viruses have been shown to be sensitive to ambient humidity, yet the mechanisms responsible for this phenomenon remain elusive. We review multiple hypotheses, including water activity, surface inactivation, and salt toxicity, that may account for the association between humidity and viability of viruses in aerosols. We assess the evidence and limitations for each hypothesis based on findings from virology, aerosol science, chemistry, and physics. In addition, we hypothesize that changes in pH within the aerosol that are induced by evaporation may trigger conformational changes of the surface glycoproteins of enveloped viruses and subsequently compromise their infectivity. This hypothesis may explain the differing responses of enveloped viruses to humidity. The precise mechanisms underlying the relationship remain largely unverified, and attaining a complete understanding of them will require an interdisciplinary approach.


Wan Yang, Linsey C Marr. Mechanisms by which ambient humidity may affect viruses in aerosols. Applied and environmental microbiology. 2012 Oct;78(19):6781-8

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PMID: 22820337

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