WebMD BlogsPublic Health

What Does It Mean for a Virus to Be 'Airborne'?

coronavirus cells
By Elizabeth Hanes, BSN, RNJune 10, 2020

This post was updated on 7/8/20 to reflect updated information.

A virus is considered to be “airborne” if you can catch it from inhaling aerosols from the air – without being directly coughed on (aerosols are the particles of spit and mucus you emit when talking, sneezing, coughing, or even laughing). This can happen if an infected person coughs in an enclosed space and then moves on, leaving behind an invisible cloud of viral particles for someone else to inhale. Depending on various factors, such as the size of the viral particles and the volume of droplets coughed out, these aerosols can linger in the air for minutes to hours.

When it comes to COVID-19, scientists know the virus spreads through droplets - the aerosols you inhale directly from an infected person at close range, such as when they cough or sneeze on you (within six feet of your face). But many doctors and scientists now believe it also may spread via airborne transmission.  

What does this mean for you? If their theories are correct and COVID-19 spreads through the air, you can pick it up much more easily than previously believed. To reduce your risk, you should wear your face mask as snugly as possible and avoid being in an enclosed space with other people. Some scientists are speculating that  the infectious particles of the coronavirus may linger in the air for several hours, so, for example, if you eat inside a restaurant two hours after an infected person coughed, you could contract the virus simply by breathing the same air.

Because the research continues to evolve regarding COVID-19, you should try to stay up to date regarding new findings that can help keep you and your family safe during this pandemic.


WebMD Blog
© 2020 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.
Blog Topics:

More from the Public Health Blog

  • vitamin d supplement

    'What's the Best Time of Day to Take Vitamins?'

    Knowing what time of day to take your vitamin and mineral supplements can help you maximize their effectiveness and avoid dangerous interactions.

  • man sore throat

    'Does a Sore Throat Mean I'm Sick?'

    If your only symptom is a sore throat, it may not be anything to get worked up about. But, how do you know if you need to call a doctor?

View all posts on Public Health

Latest Blog Posts on WebMD

View all blog posts

Important: The opinions expressed in WebMD Blogs are solely those of the User, who may or may not have medical or scientific training. These opinions do not represent the opinions of WebMD. Blogs are not reviewed by a WebMD physician or any member of the WebMD editorial staff for accuracy, balance, objectivity, or any other reason except for compliance with our Terms and Conditions. Some of these opinions may contain information about treatments or uses of drug products that have not been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. WebMD does not endorse any specific product, service or treatment.

Do not consider WebMD Blogs as medical advice. Never delay or disregard seeking professional medical advice from your doctor or other qualified healthcare provider because of something you have read on WebMD. You should always speak with your doctor before you start, stop, or change any prescribed part of your care plan or treatment. WebMD understands that reading individual, real-life experiences can be a helpful resource, but it is never a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment from a qualified health care provider. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or dial 911 immediately.

Read More