How To Reduce Airborne Pathogens In Hospitals

September 30, 2021

Airborne Pathogens Reduction In Hospitals

Here’s another real-life story about a hospital with an airborne pathogen crisis.

Suspected mucormycetes mold clusters at a world-renowned heart transplant facility led to the deaths of three transplant patients. These deaths resulted in the closing of the facility’s cardiothoracic intensive care unit and shut down the transplant program for nearly a week. You can imagine the catastrophe this caused for current patients, incoming patients, patients’ families, and hospital staff.

A report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention pointed out ventilation systems in patients’ rooms as a possible transmission vehicle for the fungal infections.

Strategies For Starters

The hospital started:

  • Using safe cleaning solutions to destroy bacteria, viruses, and spores
  • Deployed a robot that uses ultraviolet light to disinfect medical equipment as well as hospital and operating rooms
  • Also used the robot to target at-risk areas with thermal imaging

The hospital system also hired experts to assess its facilities where remodeling projects may have caused dust- or construction-related risks. For lower-immunity patients, such as in cancer treatment areas, even low levels of microorganisms can cause increased risk. These are certainly areas where basic or fundamental air quality treatment is required.

Other strategies for infection control include:

  • Administrative controls
  • Engineering controls
  • Hand washing
  • Masks
  • Reduced physical contact
  • Removal of jewelry

Hospital Air Ventilation

Beyond construction sites, everyday standards of buildings like HVAC systems can play a huge role in spreading HAIs. Improper ventilation, aging equipment, and water damage are all threats to breeding biogenic and environmental contaminants.

Biogenic contaminants include:

  • Pollen
  • Mites
  • Protozoans
  • Airborne cystic spores

Environmental contaminants include:

  • Viruses
  • Bacteria
  • Fungi, including mold

Ventilation In Communal Areas

In communal areas ventilation plays an important role in maintaining a steady exchange of clean air for potentially contaminated air. These include:

  • Waiting areas
  • Cafeterias
  • Corridors
  • Stairwells

Maintenance staff must maintain your hospital’s ventilation system for the required air change rate to be sustainable. Clogged filters, leaking ducts, or even contaminated ducts may lead to a buildup of the infectious agents they were designed to remove. Thus, poorly maintained or worn-out ventilation systems may eventually act as a source rather than as a defense against airborne infections.

Ventilation systems must be carefully designed to remove airborne contamination as soon as possible. Filtration systems must have their integrity regularly checked. Laser particle counters and microbial samplers can provide continuous monitoring of ventilation performance.

At the more personal level, with patients and staff in close proximity, more specific means of personal protection are effective, like masks or a portable air management device.

That said, there are many complex issues surrounding mask wearing. Even though materials, methods, and mask design have improved over the years, there is still variable effectiveness against viral- and bacterial-sized particles.

Other studies have shown the actual act of wearing masks and keeping them on in a proper position is very difficult. Sick patients may have difficulty maintaining proper and consistent mask use — or may be disinterested in doing so — to contain their infection and protect others

What You Need: Airborne Pathogens Reduction Through UV Air Disinfection

HAI Outbreaks in Hospitals Are Preventable

Historically, hospitals don’t regularly test for environmental airborne microbiology, with the exception of surgical suites. Staffers address surface and contact containment as much as possible. New technologies like UV-based surface eradication are certainly helping.

But for some reason, airborne pathogens are typically addressed after the fact. Thankfully, more and more advanced Infection Prevention Programs are calling for proactive measures.

The goal is to limit liability and expenditures associated with HAIs.

Proactive Health Care Facility Managers want to identify potential issues and address them at the source, before they become a crisis. This is possible thanks to Portable Air Disinfection Devices.

“With the increase in viral infection and the possibility of pandemics when large numbers of patients will have to be treated and where many others will be at risk of acquiring infections, now is the time to invest in radical new ventilation design and management strategies as well as portable air management devices.”

– Eames, I., et. al. “Airborne Transmission of Disease in Hospitals.” J Royal Society Interface. Dec. 2009. 6: p. 697-702.

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