A senior sitting in a wheelchair

Installing medical grade air purification technology on one floor of a Pennsylvania senior living community resulted in a 40% reduction in healthcare-associated infections when compared with another floor that used standard HEPA-filtered air purifiers alone.

Indoor air quality is a crucial component of infection prevention and control in long-term care facilities, according to study lead Kathryn C Worrilow, PhD, an adjunct professor at Pennsylvania State University Lehigh Valley. Worrilow also is CEO of LifeAire Systems, which developed the air purification technology.

The technology was installed in the heating, ventilation and air conditioning ductwork of one floor at Phoebe Ministries, a continuing care retirement / life plan community in Allentown, PA. That floor also had HEPA filtration, whereas the control floor had only the HEPA filtration. 

Investigators measured airborne and surface pathogen levels and volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, at five locations on each floor. They also tracked clinical metrics, including the rate of resident infections.

Compared with the control floor, airborne pathogens responsible for illness and infection were reduced by 99% on the floor with advanced air purification technology. There also was a 40% reduction in health-care associated infections and a 90% reduction in VOCs.

A relatively reduced amount of pathogens also was found on surfaces, with the exception of one resident room where the pathogens were linked to direct touch. The cleaner surfaces are the direct result of the reduced pathogen load in the air, the investigators reported.

Based on the results, the use of advanced air purification technology could complement other IPC measures, such as hand washing and surface disinfection, Worrilow and colleagues wrote. The success of these IPC cleaning tasks, although also crucial to reducing the spread of pathogens, can vary widely between facilities and the individuals who perform them, the authors noted. In contrast, medical grade air purification operates independently and its effectiveness, therefore, does not rely on compliance or technique, they wrote.

“The use of the advanced air purification technology could be an important addition to current infection control programs to improve overall cleanliness and reduce infections” within facilities, the authors concluded.

The study was published in the Journal of Gerontology.

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