Workplace Safety: Reducing Airborne Pathogens

It’s Airborne so Let’s Do Something About the Air…

By Dr. Laura Smallwood, DVM DACVIM (SAIM) RYT-200

Preventing transmission of disease between patients in a hospital setting is a basic standard of care. Preventing transmission of zoonotic disease from animal patient to human caretaker in a hospital setting is veterinary workplace safety 101. However, we have long thought nothing about human-to-human transmission of infectious diseases in the workplace. That was until COVID.

We’ve learned a few things from the pandemic. The first is that the droplet model of respiratory pathogen transmission has a questionable evidence base and that most respiratory pathogens including Sar-CoV-2 are released into the air every time an infected person or animal exhales (no cough or sneeze required) and that these infectious particles spread throughout an unventilated/unfiltered indoor air space like smoke where they can hang in air for hours, long after the infected animal or person has left the room.

The second thing we have learned from the pandemic is that an infection spreading through the workplace is no bueno. Sick people either can’t work, or they can’t miss work, so they come to work sick and make more people sick. Sometimes sick people develop complications or chronic conditions and can’t come back to work for a long time or not at all. All to say is that any infection spreading through the workplace makes the omnipresent staffing shortage that much worse.

The third thing we learned from the pandemic is that preventing the spread of respiratory infections is insanely easy to do. It’s as simple as not breathing those infectious particles in, and as easy as wearing a well-fitting N-95 respirator–but nobody wants to have to do that, right? And what about your veterinary patients? They can’t even put on an N-95 and there are plenty of respiratory pathogens that they would prefer not to get infected with while spending time with you, including COVID.

The fourth thing we learned from the pandemic is that there are engineering solutions that can reduce reliance on PPE and that there are two complimentary approaches to removing airborne pathogens from indoor air. One is to ventilate (read our latest edition of our magazine: See Don’t Just Meditate, Ventilate). The other is to filter the air, and there are some easy ways to do that.

Here are some ideas.

  • Install MERV-13 HVAC filters in your HVAC system and keep the HVAC fan on during working hours. Do this immediately if you are not already doing it.
  • Install portable air filters throughout the hospital. If you want an inexpensive workhorse of an air purifier for your waiting room, treatment areas, and animal housing spaces, consider building a Corsi-Rosental box. It’s easy to build and requires only 4 MERV-13 HVAC filters and a box fan: Visit this page and watch our demo!
  • Interested in building a CR Box with computer fans instead of a box fan for smaller spaces like exam rooms? Click here.
  • If you would prefer to purchase commercial air purifiers or want more information on air filtration in general, visit this page.
  • As an added bonus, filtering the air not only reduces the risk of airborne contagion, it reduces the risks to respiratory health posed by allergens and particulate pollutants, which makes indoor air safer for everyone (including animals) to breathe.

In loving memory of Sarah and the joy she brought to the world.