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Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Ventilation in aged care facilities a concern as most have no formal air hygiene plan

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As jurisdictions begin to ease restrictions, the question arises as to how we can make ‘COVID normal’ as safe as possible.

Whilst mask-wearing and sanitation practices will remain topical priorities, environmental factors such as ventilation are now taking centre stage in expert discussion.

Professor Raina MacIntyre, Professor of Global Biosecurity at the University of New South Wales, said in a recent statement to Ozsage: “Once we accept that SARS-CoV-2 is airborne, it is clear that safe indoor air is essential…  the current vaccines are not enough to control the Delta variant – experience from other countries who have tried and failed tells us that.”

It is an especially concerning factor for taking care of those living in residential aged care, as most Australian aged care facilities have no formal air hygiene practices in place.

There are two ways to boost natural ventilation within environments: manual or technological.

Manual means of increasing ventilation include ensuring windows are open and shifting social activities to outdoor spaces where possible.

In fact, some research points to indoor transmission being almost 18 times more likely in an indoor setting, as opposed to outdoors.

However, extended periods outdoors are not possible for all elderly people, and there are various reasons why indoor ventilation may be lacking.

Professor Bruce Milthorpe, former dean of science at the University of Technology, Sydney, tells Aged Care News that whilst opening windows and doors is the best way to manually boost a room’s ventilation, there are circumstances where this is not possible.  

“During bushfires or when hay fever is rife, people may need to shut out smoke and allergens to protect their respiratory health, as well as during periods of extreme heat or cold, when people will often shut doors and windows to assist with temperature control,” he says.

“Also, a lot of the common areas in aged care homes are not directly connected to the outside and rely on windows and doors in resident’s rooms to be kept open.”

For this reason, many are turning to technological alternatives to purifying air.

One such example is the, VIRUSKILLER,  a newly launched air sanitisation unit.

Developed in collaboration with the Korean Aerospace University in response to the 2003 SARS epidemic, the unit is proven 99.9999 per cent effective against COVID-19 and other airborne pathogens.

Such units clear the air of viruses, bacteria, mold, and fungi — as well as allergens, irritants and smoke.

Milthorpe says that such technological innovations are a vital addition to residences COVID-safe toolkit.

“It is thought to only require 10 viral particles breathed in to catch COVID-19,” Milthorpe says.

“In conditions where ventilation is poor, an air purifie, is required to remove some of the more problematic pollutants and pathogens, such as the SARS-CoV-2 virus.”

When asked whether there is such a thing as ‘over-sanitising’ the air, risking a drop in residents’ immunity to other circulating pathogens, such as the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), Millthorpe tells Aged Care News this shouldn’t come as a major concern.

“There will probably be plenty of RSV exposure to residents from visitors, even if the air in common areas is cleaned by an air purifier, but hopefully, air purification will reduce the number and severity of any surges.

”For RSV, the death rate is seen to be acceptable.

“For SARS-CoV-2 it is not, and something like VIRUSKILLER is required in poorly ventilated areas to reduce the exposure risk.”

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