National Air Transportation Center of Excellence for Research in the Intermodal Transport Environment, School of Mechanical Engineering, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN, USA.
The droplets exhaled by an index patient with infectious disease such as influenza or tuberculosis may be the carriers of contagious agents. Indoor environments such as the airliner cabins may be susceptible to infection from such airborne contagious agents. The present investigation computed the transport of the droplets exhaled by the index patient seated in the middle of a seven-row, twin-aisle, fully occupied cabin using the CFD simulations. The droplets exhaled were from a single cough, a single breath, and a 15-s talk of the index patient. The expiratory droplets were tracked by using Lagrangian method, and their evaporation was modeled. It was found that the bulk airflow pattern in the cabin played the most important role on the droplet transport. The droplets were contained in the row before, at, and after the index patient within 30 s and dispersed uniformly to all the seven rows in 4 minutes. The total airborne droplet fraction reduced to 48, 32, 20, and 12% after they entered the cabin for 1, 2, 3, and 4 min, respectively, because of the ventilation from the environmental control system.
PRACTICAL IMPLICATIONS: It is critical to predict the risk of airborne infection to take appropriate measures to control and mitigate the risk. Most of the studies in past either assume a homogenous distribution of contaminants or use steady-state conditions. The present study instead provides information on the transient movement of the droplets exhaled by an index passenger in an aircraft cabin. These droplets may contain active contagious agents and can be potent enough to cause infection. The findings can be used by medical professionals to estimate the spatial and temporal distribution of risk of infection to various passengers in the cabin.