Difference Between Airborne and Droplet

Health workers and health agencies always recommend transmission-based precautions like airborne precautions, droplet precautions, contact for avoiding transmission of respiratory viruses. There are several differences between an airborne and a droplet, both of which can be transmitted to the human body causing illness.

Airborne vs Droplet

The main difference between airborne and droplet is that airborne refers to the aerosol transmission where infectious viruses and bacteria are transmitted through very small particles or droplets in the air, on the other hand, droplet refers to a very small drop of liquid in the air through which many infectious bacteria or viruses travel in the air and entered into the human body.

Airborne and Droplet

Airborne refers to the aerosol transmission where droplets containing bacteria or viruses float in the air and are transmitted to the human body through inhaling. According to WHO, transmitted infections by particles measuring 5 micrometers or smaller than that are seen as airborne transmission. It can be generated through sneezing, coughing, or even through exhaling. 

Droplet refers to the small drop of liquid which is mostly made of water with some inclusion. Viruses and bacteria can be transmitted through the droplet in the air and enter the human body. According to WHO, a droplet is measured 5 micrometers or larger than that. Droplets are produced by a human through several ways, like coughing, sneezing, shouting, singing, etc.

Comparison Table Between Airborne and Droplet

Parameters of ComparisonAirborneDroplet
DefinitionAirborne is the aerosol transmission where viruses and bacteria are transmitted through droplets in the air.      Droplet is the drop of liquid mainly consisting of water and produced by humans (though sneezing, coughing, shouting) through which viruses and bacteria are transmitted.
SizeWHO has determined the size of airborne 5 micrometers or smaller than that.     WHO has determined the size of droplets 5 micrometers or larger than that.
TransmissionWhen viruses and bacteria travel through droplets, become aerosolized, and enter into the human body it is called airborne disease.     Droplet transmission is the transmission of bacteria and viruses through a droplet through human sneezing, coughing, shouting, or singing. 
DistanceAirborne viruses and bacteria can travel a longer (30 to 60 centimeters) distance compared to the droplet.     Droplets travel very small distances and mainly depend on the airflow.
Precautionary stepsFor preventing airborne disease wearing a mask is very important but using sanitizer is not required.     For preventing droplet spread diseases sanitizer played a significant role. Avoiding physical contact is helpful in this case.

What is Airborne?

Airborne refers to the aerosol transmission which occurs when bacteria and viruses are transmitted through small particles or droplets in the air and travel to the human body. According to WHO, aerosols measured five micrometers or less in size. 

Airborne diseases are prone to transmit through the air from one person to another. Biological waste and infectious sources of the human body can generate aerosols. Infectious aerosols can travel in the air a long distance (30 to 6o centimeters). Airborne allergens or pathogens generally enter the human body through the throat, lungs, sinuses, and nose. By inhaling these allergens the respiratory system might be affected and the infection can spread to the whole body. 

There are mainly three types of airborne transmission- opportunistic airborne, preferential airborne, and obligate airborne. Preferential airborne diseases are transmitted through main aerosols but can be transmitted through other routes (example- chickenpox). Obligate airborne diseases spread only through aerosols (example- tuberculosis). Opportunistic airborne diseases spread only through other routes (example- influenza).

Air pollution has an important role in transmitting airborne diseases. Lung functions can be influenced by the pollutants by enhancing inflammation of the airway. Other diseases like influenza, norovirus, chickenpox, measles morbillivirus are airborne diseases. There are some airborne diseases that affect non-humans, like Newcastle disease where domestic poultry was affected. 

What is Droplet?

Droplet refers to a small drop of liquid, mainly consisting of mucus or saliva, by exhalation, sneezing, coughing, shouting. It is produced naturally through breathing, sneezing, and coughing. According to WHO, droplets are measured 5 micrometers or larger than that. These human droplets can transmit many infectious viruses and bacteria. 

There are two types of droplets- aerosol droplets and respiratory droplets. Aerosol droplets are smaller in size and transmit viruses and bacteria by floating in the air and entering the human body. On the other hand, the respiratory droplet is larger than the aerosol. These types of droplets transmit diseases by contact or physical touch. 

Respiratory droplets are produced by a human in several ways, like sneezing, breathing, coughing, shouting, singing, etc. When respiratory droplets contain viruses or bacteria it transmitted infectious diseases through contact. Viruses that are spread by droplet transmission are norovirus, coronavirus, rhinovirus, influenza virus, respiratory syncytial virus, and so on.

 For taking precautions from droplet transmission in healthcare institutions patients are taken to an individual room and proper PPE (personal protective equipment) is used. Higher ventilation rates are also used for removing and diluting respiratory particles as a hazard control. Surgical masks are also useful in preventing droplet transmission. Any physical contact like a handshake needs to be avoided for taking precautions of droplet transmission. 

Main Differences Between Airborne and Droplet

  1. Airborne is the aerosol transmission where viruses and bacteria are transmitted through droplets in the air. On the other hand, the droplet is the drop of liquid mainly consisting of water and produced by humans (though sneezing, coughing, shouting) through which viruses and bacteria are transmitted.
  2. WHO has determined the size of airborne 5 micrometers or smaller than that. According to WHO, droplets are measured 5 micrometers or larger than that.
  3. When viruses and bacteria travel through droplets, become aerosolized, and enter into the human body it is called airborne disease. Droplet transmission is the transmission of bacteria and viruses through a droplet through human sneezing, coughing, shouting, or singing.
  4. Airborne viruses and bacteria can travel a longer (30 to 60 centimeters) distance compared to the droplet. Droplets travel very small distances and mainly depend on the airflow.
  5. For preventing airborne disease wearing a mask is very important but using sanitizer is not required. For preventing droplet spread diseases sanitizer played a significant role. Avoiding physical contact is helpful in this case.

Conclusion

Both airborne and droplets can transmit infectious diseases to human and non-human bodies. Both these transmissions are interrelated. Both airborne and droplets are generated through the human body by coughing, sneezing, shouting, and singing. The main difference lies in the measurement, airborne diseases are transmitted through smaller particles and droplet transmission occurs through larger droplets. 

For preventing this transmission surgical masks are helpful, but in case of airborne disease sanitizing hands are not helpful, while it helps in preventing droplet transmission. For preventing droplet transmission physical contact needs to be avoided, while for avoiding airborne disease staying at home is helpful.

References

  1. https://scholar.google.com/scholar?hl=en&as_sdt=0%2C5&q=airborne&btnG=#d=gs_qabs&u=%23p%3DZUNQh4PRh3UJ
  2. https://scholar.google.com/scholar?hl=en&as_sdt=0%2C5&q=droplet+transmission+&btnG=#d=gs_qabs&u=%23p%3DAZybqg3yrJUJ
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