News Release 

"Paradigm shift" needed in view of respiratory infection risk from indoor ventilation systems

American Association for the Advancement of Science

Research News

For decades, governments worldwide have invested great deals of legislation and resources in food safety, sanitation and drinking water quality for public health purposes. However, the same cannot be said for the air quality of indoor public spaces, wherein the spread of airborne pathogens - whether those that cause the common cold or COVID-19 - is generally considered to be an "inescapable part of daily life." In a Policy Forum, Lidia Morawska and colleagues argue for a profound shift in how policymakers and building engineers view and approach indoor air quality and health, to reduce the spread of respiratory infection. According to Morawska et al., similarly to how food and waterborne disease have largely been eliminated in developed countries, achieving clean, pathogen-free air in buildings and indoor public spaces is possible. However, doing so will require a "paradigm shift" in how this risk is viewed and addressed by scientists, engineers, and public health officials. The authors propose several next steps, including development of recommendations on preventive measures addressing all modes of respiratory infection transmission in a proper and balanced way, based on state-of-the-art science. They note the recently published WHO Ventilation Roadmap is "an important step" but say it falls short of recognizing the hazard of airborne respiratory infection transmission, and in turn, the necessity of risk control. "The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed how unprepared the world was to respond to it, despite the knowledge gained from pandemics that have occurred over past centuries," write the authors. "In the 21st century, we need to establish the foundations to ensure that the air in our buildings is clean with a substantially reduced pathogen count, contributing to the building occupants' health just as we expect for the water coming out of our taps."


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