Characterization of infectious aerosols in health care facilities: an aid to effective engineering controls and preventive strategies.
Assessment of strategies for engineering controls for the prevention of airborne infectious disease transmission to patients and to health care and related workers requires consideration of the factors relevant to aerosol characterization. These factors include aerosol generation, particle size and concentrations, organism viability, infectivity and virulence, airflow and climate, and environmental sampling and analysis. The major focus on attention to engineering controls comes from recent increases in tuberculosis, particularly the multidrug-resistant varieties in the general hospital population, the severely immunocompromised, and those in at-risk and confined environments such as prisons, long-term care facilities, and shelters for the homeless. Many workers are in close contact with persons who have active, undiagnosed, or insufficiently treated tuberculosis. Additionally, patients and health care workers may be exposed to a variety of pathogenic human viruses, opportunistic fungi, and bacteria. This report therefore focuses on the nature of infectious aerosol transmission in an attempt to determine which factors can be systematically addressed to result in proven, applied engineering approaches to the control of infectious aerosols in hospital and health care facility environments. The infectious aerosols of consideration are those that are generated as particles of respirable size by both human and environmental sources and that have the capability of remaining viable and airborne for extended periods in the indoor environment. This definition precludes skin and mucous membrane exposures occurring from splashes (rather than true aerosols) of blood or body fluids containing infectious disease agents. There are no epidemiologic or laboratory studies documenting the transmission of bloodborne virus by way of aerosols.
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