Legionella is a gram-negative bacterium with the ability for human infection by inhalation or aspiration of water containing the bacteria. Legionella live in aquatic environments and have been identified in cooling towers, humidifiers and respiratory therapy treatments, among others. Infection with Legionella bacteria leads to Legionnaire’s Disease or Pontiac Fever (Edelstein, 1993). Information regarding the means of aerosolization of Legionella bacteria has not yet been reported, therefore the relevance of experimentation was defined. The objective of this study is to determine the modes by which bacteria may be aerosolized under laboratory conditions. Specifically, to measure the amount of bacteria transported over a specific distance in a given amount of time and determine the most effective mode of bacterial aerosolization. Three methods of bacterial aerosolization were tested, these included an electric paint sprayer, an air paint sprayer and a hand-held spray bottle. E. coli was used as a surrogate for Legionella in experimentation due to its similar bacterial properties. Both bacteria are gram-negative, aerobic bacilli while Legionella is approximately 2 μm in length (Botzenhart, 1998), and E. coli is between 1 and 3 μm in length (Reshes, 2007). The accessibility and non-pathogenicity of E. coli also served as factors for the substitution.
In order to measure the aerosolization efficiency of each spray method, an air sampler was placed opposite to the position of the sprayer, on either side of a sealed box. Each sprayer was filled with E. coli concentrated at 104 CFU/ml in a PBS solution and sprayed for a time span of 1 and 5 seconds. For each of these time intervals an air sample was collected immediately following the spray as well as 5 minutes after the spray. Compared to the other two methods, the air spray method consistently showed the highest number of bacterial cells aerosolized. While all three methods resulted in the aerosolization of bacteria, the results determined the Air Spray method as the most efficient means of bacterial aerosolization. In this study, we provide a practical and efficient method of bacterial aerosolization for microbial dispersion in air. The suggested method can be used in future research for microbial dispersion and transmission studies.
In addition, a humidifier was filled with a spiked solution of E. coli and operated for a period of 1 and 5 seconds at its maximum output. Air samples were collected after 0 and 5 minutes. Immediately after the humidifier operation was stopped a small number of colonies were detected in the air sample and no colonies were detected in the air sample collected after a 5-minute elapsed time. This experiment served as a proof of concept for airborne pathogen’s transmission by a humidifier.