Page updated 13.9.2018

AIRBORNE – Spreading of Airborne Infections in Hospitals

A joint project of Turku University of Applied Sciences, University of Turku and University Hospitals of Leicester researches the exposure of hospital staff to airborne infections spread from patients in care situations. The project focuses especially on investigating the effect of ventilation and different air distribution methods on the spreading of airborne impurities and on controlling airborne impurities in the hospital environment.

Particularly during pandemics (e.g. SARS, MERS and influenza) the hospital staff may come into a contact with patients with an airborne infectious disease. The possibility of aerosol transmission has increased the need of hospital staff to protect themselves as effectively as possible against such pathogens.

Respirator masks and other personal safety gear provide an important means of protection, but they cannot alone guarantee full protection (for instance, a respirator mask may leak, or eyes may be left unprotected). The exposure of hospital staff to airborne infections can be decreased through a well-planned ventilation system. So far, however, it is not thoroughly clear which method of ventilation is ideal for decreasing the risk of exposure.

AIRBORNE investigates how airborne pathogens exhaled by patients in different care situations spread to the breathing zone of nurses and doctors and end up being inhaled. The objective is to research the effects of different ventilation methods as well as search and develop solutions to minimizing the exposure of hospital staff to airborne impurities spread from patients.

The experiments are conducted in the ventilation laboratory of Turku University of Applied Sciences by building a simple model of a hospital room, in which the nurse and the patient are simulated by using thermal manikins. With the help of smoke visualizations, tracer measurements and airflow calculations, it is possible to demonstrate and measure the concentration of the tracer spread from the patient and occurring in the inhalation air of the nurse and by so doing assess the risk of nurses being exposed in different care situations.

The project produces information of the effects of ventilation, the optimal ventilation methods and the exposure of staff to air-transmitted infections in different care situations. The outcomes of the project can be utilized when drawing up national and international planning instructions for hospital ventilation, infection prevention instructions and protection instructions for hospital staff.

AIRBORNE is a 3-year international research project funded by Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH, UK). The main responsibility for the implementation lies with Turku University of Applied Sciences in cooperation with University of Turku and University Hospitals of Leicester.