Assessment of indoor bioaerosol exposure using direct-reading versus traditional methods—potential application to home health care
Home healthcare workers (HHCWs) can be occupationally exposed to bioaerosols in their clients’ homes. However, choosing the appropriate method to measure bioaerosol exposures remains a challenge. Therefore, a systematic comparison of existing measurement approaches is essential. Bioaerosol measurements with a real-time, fluorescence-based Wideband Integrated Bioaerosol Sensor (WIBS) were compared to measurements with four traditional off-line methods (TOLMs). The TOLMS included optical microscopic counting of spore trap samples, microbial cultivation of impactor samples, qPCR, and next-generation sequencing (NGS) of filter samples. Measurements were conducted in an occupied apartment simulating the environments that HHCWs could encounter in their patients’ homes. Descriptive statistics and Spearman’s correlation test were computed to compare the real-time measurement with those of each TOLM. The results showed that the geometric mean number concentrations of the total fluorescent aerosol particles (TFAPs) detected with the WIBS were several orders of magnitude higher than those of total fungi or bacteria measured with the TOLMs. Among the TOLMs, concentrations obtained with qPCR and NGS were the closest to the WIBS detections. Correlations between the results obtained with the WIBS and TOLMs were not consistent. No correlation was found between the concentrations of fungi detected using microscopic counting and any of the WIBS fluorescent aerosol particle (FAP) types, either indoors or outdoors. In contrast, the total concentrations detected with microbial cultivation correlated with the WIBS TFAP results, both indoors and outdoors. Outdoors, the total concentration of culturable bacteria correlated with FAP-type AC. In addition, fungal and bacterial concentrations obtained with qPCR correlated with FAP types AB and AC. For a continuous, high-time resolution but broad scope, the real-time WIBS could be considered, whereas a TOLM would be the best choice for specific and more accurate microbial characterization. HHCWs’ activities tend to re-aerosolize bioaerosols causing wide temporal variation in bioparticle concentrations. Thus, the advantage of using the real-time instrument is to capture those variations. This study lays a foundation for future exposure assessment studies targeting HHCWs.