Effect of saliva fluid properties on pathogen transmissibility

Jonathan Reyes, Douglas Fontes, Alexander Bazzi, Michelle Otero, Kareem Ahmed, Michael Kinzel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


With an increasing body of evidence that SARS-CoV-2 is an airborne pathogen, droplet character formed during speech, coughs, and sneezes are important. Larger droplets tend to fall faster and are less prone to drive the airborne transmission pathway. Alternatively, small droplets (aerosols) can remain suspended for long time periods. The small size of SARS-CoV-2 enables it to be encapsulated in these aerosols, thereby increasing the pathogen’s ability to be transmitted via airborne paths. Droplet formation during human respiratory events relates to airspeed (speech, cough, sneeze), fluid properties of the saliva/mucus, and the fluid content itself. In this work, we study the fluidic drivers (fluid properties and content) and their influence on factors relating to transmissibility. We explore the relationship between saliva fluid properties and droplet airborne transmission paths. Interestingly, the natural human response appears to potentially work with these drivers to mitigate pathogen transmission. In this work, the saliva is varied using two approaches: (1) modifying the saliva with colloids that increase the viscosity/surface tension, and (2) stimulating the saliva content to increased/decreased levels. Through modern experimental and numerical flow diagnostic methods, the character, content, and exposure to droplets and aerosols are all evaluated. The results indicate that altering the saliva properties can significantly impact the droplet size distribution, the formation of aerosols, the trajectory of the bulk of the droplet plume, and the exposure (or transmissibility) to droplets. High-fidelity numerical methods used and verify that increased droplet size character enhances droplet fallout. In the context of natural saliva response, we find previous studies indicating natural human responses of increased saliva viscosity from stress and reduced saliva content from either stress or illness. These responses both favorably correspond to reduced transmissibility. Such a finding also relates to potential control methods, hence, we compared results to a surgical mask. In general, we find that saliva alteration can produce fewer and larger droplets with less content and aerosols. Such results indicate a novel approach to alter SARS-CoV-2’s transmission path and may act as a way to control the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as influenza and the common cold.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number16051
JournalScientific reports
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


Dive into the research topics of 'Effect of saliva fluid properties on pathogen transmissibility'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this