Study highlights airborne virus transmission risks

The risks faced by healthcare workers treating patients with viruses that can be transmitted through the air have been highlighted in research published by the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH).

Researchers from University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust and Turku University of Applied Sciences in Finland examined how different forms of ventilation can protect those treating patients.

The study, Reducing aerosol infection risk in hospital patient care, found that, if the healthcare worker is leaning over a patient lying on a bed in an isolation room – for example, to check blood pressure, pulse rate of temperature – the air the patient breathes out flows directly towards them.

In a room with mixing ventilation, this therefore meant their exposure level rose by up to six times, significantly increasing their chance of infection.

Mary Ogungbeje, occupational safety and health research manager at IOSH, said: “This important research highlights the risks that healthcare workers face when they are treating patients infected with airborne viruses as well as how these risks can be managed.

“Our study suggests that some forms of ventilation, particularly local downward ventilation, can be efficient in managing the risks together with the use of personal protective equipment. We hope, therefore, that further research will be conducted to build on these findings and help protect many healthcare workers from being exposed to viruses and potentially becoming ill.”

The research also found that the use of nebulisers and oxygen masks with side vents by patients may pose additional risks to healthcare workers.

Ideally, they should not enter the room while such therapy is ongoing for a patient with a confirmed respiratory infection – except to turn on or turn off such treatment. If they do have to enter the room during such treatment, they should regard this as an exposure to a potential virus and wear an FFP2 or FFP3 mask, the study recommended.

The full report can be found on the IOSH website.

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