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Airborne Disease: Common Types, Transmission & Prevention

📅 September 30, 2021

Airborne diseases come in various types, shapes, sizes, and forms. One thing they have in common is that they can be transmitted from one person to another through air particles. Read on to learn more about this, what causes it, how it’s transmitted, and more in this article.

What is an airborne disease?

Airborne illnesses are those that may be contracted simply by inhaling. Infected people spread these diseases by releasing throat and nasal secretions into the air when they sneeze, cough, talk, or even breathe. While they can drop and contaminate surfaces, they can also hang in the air, where they can be inhaled by both humans and animals. These droplet residuals may have the following characteristics:

  • They contain potentially active microbes.
  • They may have a dry secretion covering, such as mucus or saliva, to protect them.
  • They have the ability to stay in the air for some period of time.
  • They have the ability to travel vast distances.

The microbes can be dispersed by air currents, but how far they go is dependent on the environment. Because of environmental variables, the farther the droplets travel from the source, the lower the chance of infection.

Common types of airborne diseases

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexel

Here are a few examples of airborne diseases:

• Common cold

The common cold is the most prevalent reason for individuals being unwell and unable to attend work or school.

The average adult gets a cold two or three times a year, and children get them much more frequently. The majority of these instances are caused by a rhinovirus, however, colds can be caused by a variety of viruses.

• Chickenpox

The varicella-zoster virus causes chickenpox. When you have chickenpox, you might spread it for a day or two before the rash appears. The illness might take up to 21 days to manifest after a person is exposed to it. The majority of people only have chickenpox once, after which the virus goes dormant.

From the age of 12 months, parents can choose to give their kids the varicella vaccine as an additional vaccination. It was initially launched in Malaysia in 1997 as a single-dose vaccination before being combined with other vaccines on the market.

• Influenza 

This airborne disease is quickly shared and becomes contagious before symptoms appear, so almost everyone has had it at some point. It remains infectious for another week or maybe longer if your immune system is weak.

Because of the variety of flu strains and their propensity to evolve, developing immunity to the virus is challenging, needing yearly flu vaccines.

• Tuberculosis (TB)

TB is an airborne bacterial infection that requires prolonged close contact with an infected individual to spread. It is possible to develop tuberculosis without infecting others or becoming ill.

While there are 1.4 billion individuals in the globe with tuberculosis, only approximately 10 million cases of TB are active. The disease is most likely to affect people who have a compromised immune system. Symptoms might develop as soon as a few days after exposure.

However, it might take months or even years for the virus to activate in some people. Bacteria proliferate quickly and assault the lungs while the illness is active. It can spread to other organs, bones, or skin through your blood circulation and lymph nodes.

• Measles 

Measles is very infectious because the virus that causes it may survive for up to two hours on surfaces or in the air, and it can be transmitted for up to four days before and after a rash emerges.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), in the year 2018, around Nevertheless, measles can be easily controlled with vaccinations.

• Diphtheria 

Diphtheria is an airborne transmission disease that affects the respiratory system as well as the nerves, kidneys, and heart. Diphtheria is a life-threatening infection caused by bacteria called Corynebacterium diphtheriae, which produce a toxin (poison).

It is the poison that has the potential to make people severely sick. This ailment was a significant cause of childhood deaths across the world before the advent of vaccinations.

Causes of airborne diseases

Pathogenic microorganisms tiny enough to be released from an infected person by coughing, sneezing, laughing, and close physical contact or aerosolization of the secretion containing the germs produce airborne illnesses.

The microorganisms that have been released float around in the air on dust particles, respiratory droplets, and water droplets.

When the microorganism is inhaled or comes into contact with mucous membranes, or when secretions left on a surface are touched, illness results.

Symptoms of airborne diseases

Symptoms for airborne diseases are usually similar to those of a common cold, which are:

  • Coughing
  • Fever
  • Flu
  • Sneezing 
  • Sore throat
  • Chills
  • Fatigue 
  • Headaches
  • Body aches
  • Stuffy nose

How are airborne diseases transmitted?

Photo by Edward Jenner from Pexels

Depending on the germ involved, airborne illnesses can spread by direct or indirect transmission, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

When someone breathes or sneezes, germs can enter the air in the form of moist droplets. They’ll float in the air, and some of the droplets will dry out, leaving tiny particles. These particles can adhere to or enter the bodies of persons nearby while floating in the air.

These infectious carriers can move along air currents, loiter in the air, or attach to surfaces before being inhaled by another person. Airborne transmission may happen across vast distances and long periods.

It might be dangerous if you enter a room where someone had coughed just minutes before. Because there is less person-to-person contact, airborne illnesses can infect a larger number of individuals, making it more difficult to establish the cause.

How to prevent airborne disease transmission?

Even though it is impossible to totally stop airborne diseases from being transmitted among the general public, there are a few things you can do to lower your chances of getting them:

Practice good hygiene 

In order to prevent the transmission of airborne viruses, adequate hygiene is required, just as it is for other infectious illnesses. When coughing or sneezing, always cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your elbow and dispose of used tissues properly. When you’re unwell, wash your hands regularly and stay at home.

Get vaccinated

Vaccines for airborne viruses including measles, mumps, and varicella are available. Vaccines have played a critical role in lowering the number of illnesses and fatalities caused by these viruses. Getting vaccinated is the greatest method to protect yourself or others.

Wear a face mask efficiently

As we all know, wearing a face mask can help curb the spread of airborne diseases like Covid-19. By wearing a mask, you are not only protecting yourself from the virus but also others from getting the virus from you, if you’re sick.

These days, there are numerous masks types that you can choose from, including disposable face masks and washable face masks.

Is covid 19 an airborne disease?

SARS-CoV-2, a fast-spreading coronavirus, and the sickness it produces, COVID-19, have caused millions of infections and hundreds of thousands of fatalities throughout the world in 2020.

As a consequence, information about coronavirus and COVID-19 is continually updated.

SARS-CoV-2 is spread by infected fluids such as saliva and respiratory secretions, as well as respiratory droplets, which are released when an infected person coughs, sneezes, speaks, or sings. As such, airborne transmission is possible. 

Preventing covid-19

Here are a few things you can do to prevent the spread of Covid-19:

  • Practice social distancing whenever you are out in public places or in contact with people.
  • Always wear a mask when you step out of your house, even more so if you’re in an area where social distancing is not possible. ProXMask’s face masks are made from an antiviral fabric that has a 99.9% efficacy rate against the virus.
  • Avoid places that are not well ventilated and try to keep windows open if you’re indoors.
  • Practice good self hygiene by washing your hands with soap and water. You can use a sanitiser if you can’t immediately wash your hands.
  • Get vaccinated as soon as possible to reach herd immunity.
  • Always cover your nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing.
  • Most importantly, if you are sick or have come in contact with someone who has the virus, please stay at home and follow guidance from local health officials.


When pathogen-containing particles enter the air and some of them remain floating, airborne illnesses can spread from one person to another. So, cover your mouth and nose when sneezing to avoid infection or passing a sickness on to others, and keep away from other people if they are sick.


Yii Change Bong

Medical Officer, Proxmask

Dr Yii Change Bong is an occupational health doctor with demonstrated experience working with the Ministry of Health, Malaysia.

Having worked as a Medical Officer in Hospital Umum Sarawak and Sarawak General Hospital, Kuching for more than 5 years, he holds a strong presence in the fields of occupational health services, medical surveillance, and also in providing medical education.

In 2020 Dr Bong was the COVID-19 taskforce PPE liaison as the person in charge of personal protective equipment for frontline healthcare workers in the hospital during the early stages of the pandemic.


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