What Are Airborne Pathogens?

Improving Indoor Air Quality in Hospitals

IAQ is by far the most often ignored of the three ways to transmit disease in health care facilities (the other two being surfaces and human contact).

What does IAQ stand for? Indoor air quality. Doctors, infection prevention nurses, and maintenance & engineering department heads are slowly coming around to the idea that hospital air control is just as important as managing surface disinfection and human contact.

The answer to how to decrease infection rates in hospitals starts with recognizing the serious threat of airborne pathogens.

What Are Airborne Pathogens?

How is airborne disease transmitted in hospitals? Through airborne pathogens.

So many documents tell you what they are and what illnesses they cause, but few if any centralize all the crucial facts about health care-associated infection  (HAI) control in one place.
We’ve done that for you here.

Pathogens in the air are spread on particles or droplets. The solid matter may come from human skin scales, while the droplets may be generated from:

Upper and lower respiratory tract

Mouth

Nose

Vomiting

Diarrhea

Dripping water taps

Small respiratory droplets start to evaporate after release and then change their size, resulting in droplet nuclei that are sufficiently small to remain suspended in the air for long periods of time — and still be infectious.

Respiratory droplets can be spread by:

Breathing

Talking

Sneezing

Coughing

Singing

Artificial means of producing potentially infectious aerosols in hospitals include using respiratory assist equipment such as:

Nebulizers

Ventilators

Oxygen masks

Survival of pathogens in the air depends on their amount of time in the air as well as ambient environmental factors, like temperature and humidity. The transport of airborne droplets is affected by:

Local ventilation air flows

Movement of people

Thermal gradients produced by various electrical equipment

Another factor is receptors in human host cells. Differing patterns of receptor distribution between different individuals in the upper and lower respiratory tracts will affect the ease with which inhaled airborne viruses can cause infection and disease.

The nature of the infecting agent and human respiratory activity itself may cause a different variety of pathogen to be expelled, with differing effects on secondary cases.

Coughing brings up deep-seated pathogens from the lower respiratory tract in the chest. These can include species of:

Local ventilation air flows

Movement of people

Thermal gradients produced by various electrical equipment