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Playing wind instruments spreads more viruses than breathing, but less than speaking or singing

Playing wind instruments produces less viral load than speaking or singing because the instruments act as a filter for larger particles. In addition, a filter in front of the instrument and wearing FFP2 masks can minimize the risk of infection. Credit: (c) Birte Thiede/MPI-DS

The most risky tool is the voice, at least when it comes to spreading viruses like SARS-CoV2. Compared to breathing calmly, infected people release particles into the air more than 500 times while singing or speaking, which may contain viruses.

When people play music with wind instruments, there is significantly less aerosol in the environment than when singing – but still 5 to 50 times more than when breathing, as studied by a team led by Mohsen Bagheri and Eberhard Bodenschatz, director of the MPI-DS and professor at the Faculty of Physics at the University of Göttingen.

Together with colleagues from the Institute for Hospital Hygiene and Infectiology of the UMG, the researchers analyzed how many particles of which size are released when playing 20 different wind instruments. They took the measurements under controlled conditions in a cleanroom and determined the upper limit for the risk of transmission with the omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2 from the results. Their research appears in the Journal of Aerosol Science.

Risk of transfer depends on the instrument

“Surprisingly, we found that musical instruments are less risky than talking or singing,” said Mohsen Bagheri, who heads an aerosol research group at the MPI-DS. As the study by the Göttingen team shows, it is mainly the larger respiratory droplets, which are especially important for the transmission of viruses, that remain trapped in wind instruments. The instruments thus act as a filter for larger particles.

However, wind music is not harmless for the musicians and the public from an infection protection point of view. This is because particles with a size of less than five micrometers usually come out of the instrument. They remain in the air longer and spread further, so that they can reach high concentrations, especially in unventilated areas. The number of such small particles released in wind music also depends a lot on the instrument: while the team measured a very low concentration of released particles for several flutes, the measurements yielded values ​​for the clarinet that were almost as high. as for song.

For example, at a distance of one and a half meters from a clarinet and trombone, the chance of transmission is up to 50% after just four minutes. But at the same distance from a whistle, this risk of transmission is reached only after three hours. All values ​​for other measured instruments were in between.

Masks for instruments and people protect better

In their study, the team also examined how efficiently the risk of transmission can be reduced by particulate filters with similar properties to the fleece of FFP2 masks. They placed the prototype masks on the ends of brass instruments; woodwinds were almost completely encased in the filter material.

“For brass players, an instrument mask reliably reduces infectious particle emissions,” said Oliver Schlenczek, lead author of the study. If the public also wears an FFP2 mask, the chance of transmission is no more than 0.2%, even after an hour.

Simone Scheithauer, director of the Institute of Hospital Hygiene and Infectiology at the UMG, considers these results very positive: “On this basis, we can recommend much more targeted protection measures in the future and maintain musical cultural activities with only minor restrictions, even in critical situations.” “, she says.

“With adequate ventilation and wearing FFP2 masks, lessons, rehearsals and concerts with wind instruments can be performed safely,” concludes aerosol researcher Eberhard Bodenschatz.


Brass, Woodwinds Emit Respiratory Particles, Study Finds


More information:
Oliver Schlenczek et al, Experimental measurement of respiratory particles dispersed by wind instruments and analysis of the associated risk of infection transmission, Journal of Aerosol Science (2022). DOI: 10.116/j.jaerosci.2022.106070

Provided by Max Planck Society

Quote: Playing wind instruments spreads more viruses than breathing, but less than speaking or singing (2022, September 23) retrieved September 23, 2022 from https://phys.org/news/2022-09-instruments-viruses.html

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