Natural Ventilation for the Prevention of Airborne Contagion
Institutional transmission of airborne infections such as tuberculosis (TB) is an important public health problem, especially in resource-limited settings where protective measures such as negative-pressure isolation rooms are difficult to implement. Natural ventilation may offer a low-cost alternative. Our objective was to investigate the rates, determinants, and effects of natural ventilation in health care settings.The study was carried out in eight hospitals in Lima, Peru; five were hospitals of “old-fashioned” design built pre-1950, and three of “modern” design, built 1970–1990. In these hospitals 70 naturally ventilated clinical rooms where infectious patients are likely to be encountered were studied. These included respiratory isolation rooms, TB wards, respiratory wards, general medical wards, outpatient consulting rooms, waiting rooms, and emergency departments. These rooms were compared with 12 mechanically ventilated negative-pressure respiratory isolation rooms built post-2000. Ventilation was measured using a carbon dioxide tracer gas technique in 368 experiments. Architectural and environmental variables were measured. For each experiment, infection risk was estimated for TB exposure using the Wells-Riley model of airborne infection.