Virions and respiratory droplets in air: Diffusion, drift, and contact with the epithelium
Some infections, including e.g. influenza and currently active COVID 19, may be transmitted via air during sneezing, coughing, and talking. This pathway occurs via diffusion and gravity-induced drift of single virions and respiratory droplets consisting primarily of water, including small fraction of nonvolatile matter, and containing virions. These processes are accompanied by water evaporation resulting in reduction of the droplet size. The manifold of information concerning these steps is presented in textbooks and articles not related to virology and the focus is there frequently on biologically irrelevant conditions and/or droplet sizes. In this brief review, we systematically describe the behaviour of virions and virion-carrying droplets in air with emphasis on various regimes of diffusion, drift, and evaporation, and estimate the rates of all these steps under virologically relevant conditions. In addition, we discuss the kinetic aspects of the first steps of infection after attachment of virions or virion-carrying droplets to the epithelium, i.e., virion diffusion in the mucus and periciliary layers, penetration into the cells, and the early stage of replication. The presentation is oriented to virologists who are interested in the corresponding physics and to physicists who are in interested in application of the physics to virology.