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Rethinking Air - The Role of Ventilation in Preventing Respiratory Disease

The world has experienced many pandemics, cholera being one of the most serious diseases which claimed millions of lives.

When London experienced numerous cholera outbreaks, what eventually saved the city was a new comprehensive sewerage system, not a vaccine nor a miracle drug.

Later on, in the 19th and early 20th centuries, other practical efforts were made to eliminate diseases like malaria and yellow fever through the use of window screens, pesticides, and intelligent management of landscape to keep mosquitoes at bay.

These strategies indicate how effective practical solutions can be to issues that seem impossible to resolve. We have managed to successfully eliminate insect- and water-borne disease in the past.

But what about air?

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Air Ventilation Systems and Respiratory Disease

Fast forward to 2019 – the year of the coronavirus pandemic. An airborne virus that spreads like wildfire in poorly ventilated environments.

Some of us thought that the pandemic would be over in a few short weeks, but the unfortunate reality is that the novel coronavirus is likely here to stay. What matters more is what we do on a practical level to eradicate the airborne virus and reimagining air ventilation is a good place to start.

What we need to focus on is creating clean indoor air in all indoor spaces and not just in sterile environments like hospitals and laboratories. Restaurants, office buildings, grocery stores, and shopping malls should be providing clean air through superior airflow and ventilation systems. This is especially important as Raymond Tellier, a microbiologist at McGill University, says that it’s unlikely that SARS-CoV-2 is the last airborne pandemic the world will experience.

The average human breathes approximately 8-10 litres of air per minute, and when we understand the sheer volume of it, we understand that when we are in a room full of people, we are essentially breathing in one another’s lung secretions. The perfect recipe for spreading respiratory disease.

In addition to this, we unwittingly emit particles when we speak, breathe, and cough. These particles come in different sizes, some more visible than others. Smaller, less visible particles, also known as aerosols, can form when the vocal cords vibrate to air pushing out from the lungs.

When we breathe, the smallest aerosols from deep inside the lungs are expelled into the atmosphere and become suspended in exhaled air. Studies have shown that the smallest liquid particles carry the most viral load, and this is likely because they come from the deepest part of the respiratory tract. These same particles stay suspended in the air for longest because of their tiny size and tend to travel deeper in other people’s lungs when breathed in, for the same reason.

For these reasons, reimagining how air flows through indoor spaces where we learn, eat, sleep, live, and work may be a major contributing factor to preventing the spread of airborne viruses.

However, we have the think beyond opening extra windows and portable HEPA filters. We need to think on an architectural level, placing emphasis on clean air in addition to comfortable ambient temperature control.

HVAC Systems in New and Existing Buildings

More research is needed to understand what the new minimum requirements will be with regards to air ventilation. The same research will guide indoor air quality standards going forward. In addition, changing building codes will play a major role in getting buildings to change their ventilation systems.

However, the challenge is cost. Adding air filters or piping more outdoor air into a building both require more money, and more energy to run the HVAC system.

With the push to make buildings more energy efficient, focus on air quality has subsequently dwindled. Therefore, there has been substantial pushback based on increased energy consumption as a means to improve air quality. Additionally, retrofitting existing buildings will likely require major modifications. This all points towards higher costs which may not seem like a viable option to most.

The question we need to ask is, how many lives are we willing to lose before we take every possible action to stop the spread of disease, when we have the power to do so?

Further, what harm can come from improving the quality of indoor air that we share with fellow students, colleagues, and patrons?

Air Options – Modular Air Ventilation Systems South Africa

We manufacture modular HVAC systems for various industries including commercial, medical, and specialised and are committed to doing what we can to prevent the spread of airborne respiratory viruses.

Visit our products page to view our various HVAC systems and feel free to contact us for more information.

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