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Ai r and Airborne Infections

All populations of patients, employees, visitors, and contractors are subject to disease transmission by organisms which are airborne. The disturbance of soil, water, dust, or decaying organic material during construction or otherwise can release these microorganisms into the air. The microorganisms may also enter the air from oral or nasal secretions from infected patients or healthy carriers, which may then be inhaled by other individuals. The microorganisms may land on surfaces or on various parts of the body of the individuals and lead to infections.

Large patient populations can contribute to the healthcare infection problem because of the sheer numbers of individuals who may be contributing microorganisms to the air, water, and surfaces. Pathogens may be transmitted from the hands, other parts of the skin, respiratory system including nose and throat, urinary tract system, and digestive tract system of individuals, patients, and staff. A variety of bodily fluids may be involved. Pathogens may also be present in the soil, water, dust, or on disturbed surfaces or decaying organic material and can be released into the air and thereby transmitted throughout the healthcare environment. Organisms can be transmitted from person to person by droplets in the air produced during coughs, sneezes, or simply talking. Droplets may be suspended in the air for an extended periods of time and travel long distances. Construction, renovation, and cleaning can disturb pathogens and make them airborne and easily inhaled.

Ventilation systems may malfunction and become contaminated. Numerous factors related to ventilation can affect the amount of microorganisms being transmitted. These factors include cleanliness of air filters, cleanliness of grills, type of air filter, direction of air flow, air pressure, number of air changes per hour in the room, humidity, cleanliness of the ventilation system, maintenance of the ventilation system, and level of contamination within given areas. Accumulations of dust and moisture within high-efficiency particulate air filters (HEPA) increase the risk of the spread of fungi and bacteria. Also if the system is shut down, negative pressure can be created and air from other contaminated areas can be sucked in. This may be due to a malfunction, inadequate, or cleaning, or simply running the system periodically instead of continuously. Filtering systems can become contaminated with pigeon droppings and other bird droppings which contain microorganisms.

 
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