Shot of a sickly senior woman blowing her nose with a tissue while sitting on a sofa ta home

Portable air purifiers can cut the risk of transmitting airborne and surface-contact pathogens by 64%, a new skilled nursing facility study has shown. Those devices also can keep up to 90% of infectious airborne particles from entering a neighboring room, researchers said.

The study simulated the breathing of an ill patient in a nursing facility in Rochester MN, and was conducted by the Well Living Lab, involving Sabra Health Care REIT, wellness solutions provider Delos and the University of Minnesota.

Well Living Lab conducts studies as part of the WISE (Wellness Innovation in Senior Environments) initiative, an alliance of senior living and care  industry leaders and companies to provide healthy and safe indoor living spaces for residents and staff members.

Virus-sized particles cleared

Researchers set up a room with the breathing simulator, mimicking physiologically correct inhalation and exhalation. It released particles the size of those exhaled by people with respiratory illnesses such as COVID-19 and influenza. The particles were tagged with orange and blue fluorescent dyes, allowing the researchers to measure the amount that deposit on surfaces throughout the facility as well as the mass concentration present in the air.

Along with substantially reducing the number of particles transmitted through the air, the samples showed that the portable air purifier reduced simulated virus accumulation on surfaces by 44% in the “infector” room and 86% in the adjacent “susceptible” room, the researchers reported.

Open-window factor

The facility’s rooms are equipped with windows, and surface and air particles also were substantially reduced when the windows were open. It may not always be practical to open windows to provide natural air flow, however, making portable air purifiers a more consistent infection control solution, the researchers reported. Incoming air from outdoors also brought more faux virus particles into the adjacent room, they noted.

The study results are translatable to similarly sized spaces, “making stand-alone/portable air purification units an effective component of an overall strategy to reduce transmission,” the researchers concluded in a summary of the findings.

“From tuberculosis to the common cold to influenza, nearly all upper respiratory conditions have the same potential for airborne spread as COVID-19, thus making stand-alone/portable air purification technology of continued importance in a post-pandemic world,” they concluded.

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