BREATHE – centre for research excellence in airborne threats


Title:   BREATHE - mitigating airborne threats to health

Airborne threats such as infections, chemicals or bushfire exposures can harm human health. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of indoor environments for amplifying aerosol transmission. Aged care and hospitals have been hotspots, with thousands of health workers infected. Faecal aerosols can be propagated from floor to floor of buildings through sewage pipes. The risks are higher in indoors than outdoors, because aerosols accumulate indoors but are dispersed outdoors or in well ventilated settings. Modern buildings including hospitals and aged care facilities are often designed without windows that can be opened and with air conditioning systems largely recycle air. This creates high risk of occupational illness. In biological attacks, outdoor dispersion of pathogens such as anthrax across entire cities may occur. Bushfire smoke may also disperse far beyond fires and effect human health. The understanding of aerosol threats indoors and outdoors remains a poorly researched area. Control of aerosol threats is critical for community health, the safety of health workers, aged care workers and workers in office buildings, people residing in housing towers and those visiting indoor entertainment and social venues. Mitigating these risks requires multidisciplinary expertise in infectious diseases, public health, aerosol science, engineering and built environment. We will study aerosol dynamics, exposure risks, host-pathogen interactions, and the impact of the built environment, ventilation, air conditioning, personal protective equipment (PPE), exposure time and other determinants of airborne threats. Using multidisciplinary methods in infectious diseases transmission, air flow and aerosol science, computational fluid dynamic and agent based modelling of simulated indoor environments, this study will generate novel research to meet critical gaps in knowledge, collaborating internationally across disciplines, and building capacity in Australia.


Project team

Project collaborators: External

Key contact

Medicine & Health


Work from the UNSW BREATHE aerosol team
Work from the BREATHE aerosol lab
Prof Guy Marks explaining the bushfire BREATHE study
Masks for prevention of aerosol emission
Sneeze cam reveals best fabric combos for cloth masks (video)
Bushfire smoke and masks
Bushfire study - BREATHE