On coughing and airborne droplet transmission to humans

Talib Dbouk, Dimitris Drikakis

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Our understanding of the mechanisms of airborne transmission of viruses is incomplete. This paper employs computational multiphase fluid dynamics and heat transfer to investigate transport, dispersion, and evaporation of saliva particles arising from a human cough. An ejection process of saliva droplets in air was applied to mimic the real event of a human cough. We employ an advanced three-dimensional model based on fully coupled Eulerian–Lagrangian techniques that take into account the relative humidity, turbulent dispersion forces, droplet phase-change, evaporation, and breakup in addition to the droplet–droplet and droplet–air interactions. We computationally investigate the effect of wind speed on social distancing. For a mild human cough in air at 20 °C and 50% relative humidity, we found that human saliva-disease-carrier droplets may travel up to unexpected considerable distances depending on the wind speed. When the wind speed was approximately zero, the saliva droplets did not travel 2 m, which is within the social distancing recommendations. However, at wind speeds varying from 4 km/h to 15 km/h, we found that the saliva droplets can travel up to 6 m with a decrease in the concentration and liquid droplet size in the wind direction. Our findings imply that considering the environmental conditions, the 2 m social distance may not be sufficient. Further research is required to quantify the influence of parameters such as the environment’s relative humidity and temperature among others.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number053310
    JournalPhysics of Fluids
    Issue number5
    Publication statusPublished - 2020


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