Managing Airborne Bacteria and Diseases in Hospitals

During the recent pandemic, one report found that over 40,000 people may have been infected with Covid-19 while being treated in hospital for another condition.

This study highlights the vital importance of managing airborne bacteria and diseases in hospitals and other healthcare settings. These are places where individuals with high infection rates can gather and interact with each other, with staff, and with other patients. Unless adequate infection prevention and control measures are in place, infections can rapidly spread among the wider hospital population, and beyond.

What Are The Most Common Airborne Diseases in Hospitals?

Covid-19 is not the only infection that hospitals and healthcare settings need to worry about. Other common airborne bacteria and diseases include:

  • Mites
  • Seasonal cold and flu viruses
  • Mould spores
  • Staphylococcus
  • Streptococcus
  • Enterococcus

Beyond this, hospitals and healthcare settings must contend with other harmful air pollutants, including:

How Do Airborne Diseases and Bacteria Spread in Hospitals?

Most airborne diseases spread from people to people, usually via sneezes and coughs. But there are other ways these airborne pathogens and bacteria can be introduced to healthcare settings. For example, a poorly maintained heating, ventilation, or air conditioning system can lead to the development of harmful mould spores.

Also, hospital HVAC systems are supposed to filter certain pollutants from the hospital’s air supply. If a hospital’s air purification system is not working like it should, then airborne pathogens can quickly prosper and spread.

Why Air Purification Matters in Hospitals and Healthcare Settings

Obviously, nobody should enter a hospital with one condition and develop a different illness while they’re receiving treatment. But beyond this, some patient demographics are particularly vulnerable to airborne infection.

Some are immunocompromised or immunosuppressed, meaning that any infection could prove fatal. Elderly patients are also liable to experience severe symptoms in response to an infection.

Plus, hospital and healthcare staff will spend a lot of time interacting with infected people, and they may work entire shifts exposed to infected surfaces, equipment, or air. Hospitals are required by law to manage occupational risks for staff. And managing airborne viruses and bacteria is a major part of this duty of care.

How to Manage Airborne Bacteria and Diseases in Hospitals

Air purification is a hospital’s best line of defence against airborne bacteria and diseases. But there are other strategies hospitals and healthcare settings should adopt as part of a wider infection prevention and control plan.

Standard Infection Control Precautions

Every member of staff in every hospital or healthcare setting must adopt a series of Standard Infection Control Precautions (SICPs). These include:

  • Cough and sneeze etiquette – Catch any coughs and sneezes in a tissue, and immediately bin it. Hospitals can encourage this behaviour with posters, and through providing plenty of tissues, handwashing facilities, and bins for disposal.
  • Hand hygiene – Staff should perform a specific hand hygiene technique both before and after touching patients, and after touching a patient’s immediate surroundings. The hand hygiene procedure should also precede any clean or antiseptic procedures and follow any body fluid exposure risk.
  • Patient placement – Hospitals and healthcare settings should assess every patient’s infection risk the moment they arrive. If possible, any patients demonstrating a high risk of cross-infection should be isolated from any patients with a high infection risk.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for Airborne Bacteria and Diseases

PPE can act as a barrier against common infection vectors, such as coughs, sneezes, and bodily fluids. Hospitals and healthcare settings should follow a series of PPE protocols relating to storage, use, and disposal.

Read our full guide to deciding on what type of PPE to use for each procedure. We also have a detailed guide to the factors you should consider when choosing PPE for your healthcare setting.

Cleaning Procedures for Airborne Infections

As we’ll discuss in more depth below, air purification is the most vital aspect of managing airborne viruses and bacteria in hospitals and healthcare settings. But it’s also important to follow robust cleaning procedures for surfaces and equipment, or any other areas where airborne pathogens may settle and thrive.

Guidelines might include:

  • Thoroughly cleaning any reusable equipment before use and storing them in a sterile environment until they’re required.
  • Regular floor and surface cleaning – including the use of hospital grade cleaning products.
  • Effective zoning of the healthcare environment based on the levels of cleanliness, the presence of microorganisms, and the types of procedures carried out.

You can read our complete guide to cleaning for infection control in healthcare settings.

Air Filtration

The above measures are critical to an effective infection prevention and control strategy. But nothing is more effective against airborne viruses and diseases than hospital grade air filtration systems.

For example, a study by the University of Cambridge found that an air filtration system in a Covid-19 ward served to successfully remove almost 100% of the virus from the air.

Different areas of a hospital or healthcare setting will have different air filtration requirements. Waiting rooms and other public areas will need a good supply of clean air to prevent the spread of infection among staff and inpatients.

Operating theatres and other treatment areas will have much more substantial air filtration needs, with a set number of air changes per hour (ACH). And any areas where immunosuppressed or immunocompromised patients might gather will also need a totally dependable system for filtering and destroying airborne pathogens.

Read our full guide to air filtration systems in hospitals here. Also be sure to browse our range of HealthProtect air purifiers, which are specifically designed to help hospitals and other healthcare settings manage the risks of airborne viruses and bacteria. They can deliver complete filtration every 12.5 minutes in rooms as large as 62m² trapping and killing up to 99% of viruses and bacteria – including the Covid-19 virus.

Want to talk about how we can help you manage airborne diseases in your hospital? Get in touch to talk to one of our air purification experts today.