Floor dust is commonly used for microbial determinations in epidemiological studies to estimate early-life indoor microbial exposures. Resuspension of floor dust and its impact on infant microbial exposure is, however, little explored. The aim of our study was to investigate how floor dust resuspension induced by an infant’s crawling motion and an adult walking affects infant inhalation exposure to microbes.
We conducted controlled chamber experiments with a simplified mechanical crawling infant robot and an adult volunteer walking over carpeted flooring. We applied bacterial 16S rRNA gene sequencing and quantitative PCR to monitor the infant breathing zone microbial content and compared that to the adult breathing zone and the carpet dust as the source. During crawling, fungal and bacterial levels were, on average, 8- to 21-fold higher in the infant breathing zone compared to measurements from the adult breathing zone. During walking experiments, the increase in microbial levels in the infant breathing zone was far less pronounced. The correlation in rank orders of microbial levels in the carpet dust and the corresponding infant breathing zone sample varied between different microbial groups but was mostly moderate. The relative abundance of bacterial taxa was characteristically distinct in carpet dust and infant and adult breathing zones during the infant crawling experiments. Bacterial diversity in carpet dust and the infant breathing zone did not correlate significantly.
The microbiota in the infant breathing zone differ in absolute quantitative and compositional terms from that of the adult breathing zone and of floor dust. Crawling induces resuspension of floor dust from carpeted flooring, creating a concentrated and localized cloud of microbial content around the infant. Thus, the microbial exposure of infants following dust resuspension is difficult to predict based on common house dust or bulk air measurements. Improved approaches for the assessment of infant microbial exposure, such as sampling at the infant breathing zone level, are needed.