Screenshot from a Purdue University video shows the spread of cough droplets through a plane cabin.
Qingyan Chen/Purdue University School of Mechanical Engineering
  • A new video simulation shows how tiny invisible droplets from a single cough can spread throughout an airplane cabin.
  • The simulation, produced by US university Purdue's School of Mechanical Engineering, shows droplets going through a Boeing 767 passenger plane.
  • It's based on a 2014 study from university researchers who worked with Boeing engineers to determine whether changing a plane's ventilation system would affect the risk of contracting an infectious disease.
  • The video does not explicitly address the spread of Covid-19, but it comes as many airlines - struggling in the coronavirus pandemic - tout their air ventilation systems and reassure passengers that it is safe to fly.
  • But experts say there is still a significant risk of passengers getting infected even if the ventilation systems recirculate cabin air successfully, according to The Washington Post.
  • Visit Business Insider SA's homepage for more stories.

A striking simulation shows how far invisible droplets from a single cough can spread through an airplane cabin, which highlights how passengers could be exposed to the coronavirus.

The video shows how a single cough from a person sitting in the middle seat in the middle row of a passenger cabin projects a cloud of small droplets - coloured in purple - into the air, which then spreads to as far as the front row.

The simulation, produced by US university Purdue's School of Mechanical Engineering, comes from a 2014 study it did with Boeing engineers in an attempt to determine whether changing a plane's ventilation system would affect the risk of contracting SARS - used here as a stand-in for other infectious diseases.

This particular video is simulated on a Boeing 767 plane. Take a look:

Dozens of airlines, many of which have felt the full impact of the coronavirus pandemic, have in recent weeks touted the safety of flying and reassured people that their planes use special air filters that can minimise the risk of getting sick, according to The Washington Post.

These high-efficiency particulate air filters, or HEPA, have millions of particle-grabbing layers that blend air particles sucked into them with air from plane engines - creating a mix of fresh and recirculated air, The Post reported.

But while these filters may be effective in recirculating air through a cabin, passengers are still exposed to the tiny floating cough droplets before they can be vented out of the cabin and filtered.

The Purdue simulation was created on the assumption that SARS was airborne. But it's not yet clear whether Covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, spreads in the same way.

See also: Video shows how a cough could spread particles in a supermarket

The World Health Organisation has said the coronavirus is not airborne and does not spread between people who are far enough apart.

But some studies have suggested that the droplets containing Covid-19 can travel further than previously thought, and can persist in the air in aerosol form.

A study published earlier this month in the Emerging Infectious Diseases Journal found that an air-conditioning unit had helped infect nine people with the coronavirus in a windowless restaurant in Guangzhou, China, this January.

Qingyan Chen, an engineering professor behind the Purdue University video, told The Post: "To be honest, airplanes are not designed to prevent infectious-disease transmission. They're not designed to do the job."

Receive a daily update on your cellphone with all our latest news: click here.

Get the best of our site emailed to you daily: click here.

Also from Business Insider South Africa: