Air Conditioners and the Spread of Viral Infections

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Air conditioners have become a necessity, especially with global warming; nearly all public places—libraries, restaurants, cafes, etc.—use air conditioners. At this point, everyone wonders: Can air conditioners spread viruses, especially SARS Coronavirus 2?

An incident that occurred in Wuhan, China, has been used by people to infer the validity of that allegation after the infection of 9 persons while having dinner at a restaurant. The persons in question were exposed directly to the air conditioner as they were sitting in the same direction of the airflow; even though they were sat far from each other, 3 different families were infected.

How Do Air Conditioners Work?

Air conditioners depend on the idea of circulating air very quickly, which eliminates humidity. Droplets of water vapor (the humidity component) can retain heat; therefore, when the level of humidity decreases, the rate of evaporation increases, and the weather becomes dry, so viruses thrive. The higher the temperature, the more the air conditioner increases the rate of air circulation, which means that a person will breathe more of the air that others have exhaled.

Vapor droplets are made of water, but they can carry all kinds of microbes and viruses. When the air conditioner works, the air flowing through its vents pushes vapor droplets through the air to vast distances, causing the spread of infection through wide indoor spaces. Moreover, these particles remain suspended in the air for long periods of time because of the air conditioners; people sitting in the direction of the airflow are most vulnerable to infection.

Simply put, the air conditioner recirculates the same air present in the room, which is considered an ideal condition for infection. On the other hand, some people question the inevitibility of the transmission of infection through air conditioners, saying that the sample in question—in the restaurant of Wuhan—is small and should not be considered as evidence on the method of transmission.

In another study under review, researchers reported that the results of the swabs they took from a number of air conditioners and heating units at the University of Orgeon Hospital were positive for SARS Coronavirus 2 at a rate of 4:1, even though they were collected from many different locations within the cooling unit. However, they did not prove that the presence of the virus's genetic material in the air conditioners confirms the possibility of infection due to exposure to the airflow, but it is a message they send to health experts to consider air conditioners, including those with good filters, as a means of transmission of viral infection.

Being exposed to air conditioners at home differs from being exposed in public places; the risk at home is much less among family members who are already in close contact with each other. As such, there is no need to dispense with home air conditioners; however, in public places, it is adivised to apply the rules of social distancing, to wash hands regularly, and to try to limit the time spent in closed areas, in addition to keeping away from the airflow coming from air conditioners as much as possible.

References

health.com
news.harvard.edu
webmd.com

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