Opening windows in health care facilities could help prevent the spread of airborne infections, an international team of researchers reports. In fact, opening windows was more effective than negative-pressure rooms at preventing airborne disease transmission. Older facilities with high ceilings and big windows located in warm climates are particularly suited to this low-tech approach to infection control.
Researchers tested the air in eight hospitals in Lima, Peru. Facilities built with large windows and high ceilings had better ventilation than facilities with mechanically ventilated negative- pressure respiratory isolation rooms and those with lower ceilings and smaller windows that relied on natural ventilation.
Opening windows and doors offered a median ventilation of 28 air changes per hour. Mechanically-ventilated negative-pressure rooms often have a recommended 12 air changes per hour for high-risk areas.
"Opening windows and doors maximises natural ventilation so that the risk of airborne contagion is much lower than with costly, maintenance-requiring mechanical ventilation systems," the researchers say. "In settings where respiratory isolation is difficult and climate permits, windows and doors should be opened to reduce the risk of airborne contagion."
Escombe AR, et al., Natural ventilation for the prevention of airborne contagion, PLoS Medicine, February 27, 2007.