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Air Filters May Not Be The Pandemic Heroes We Thought They Were

A new study shows that the systems do not actually decrease the likelihood of picking up viral infections. 

Air filtration systems do not reduce the risk of falling ill, according to new research.

The study shows that the systems – that became popular during the COVID-19 pandemic – do not actually decrease the likelihood of picking up viral infections.

The “disappointing” findings state that many technologies designed to keep social spaces safe are not effective in the real world.

Professor Paul Hunter, of the University of East Anglia, said: “Air cleaners are designed to filter pollutants or contaminants out of the air that passes through them.

“When the Covid pandemic hit, many large companies and governments – including the NHS, the British military, and New York City and regional German governments – investigated installing this type of technology in a bid to reduce airborne virus particles in buildings and small spaces.

The “disappointing” findings state that many technologies designed to keep social spaces safe are not effective in the real world. PHOTO BY TIM MOSSHOLDER/UNSPLASH 

“But air treatment technologies can be expensive. So, it’s reasonable to weigh up the benefits against costs, and to understand the current capabilities of such technologies.”

The team studied technologies including air filtration, germicidal lights, and ionizers.

They then analyzed evidence about microbial infections or symptoms in people exposed or not to air treatment technologies in 32 studies, all conducted in real-world settings like schools or care homes.

After looking at all the available evidence they found little to support hopes that these technologies can make air safe from respiratory or gastrointestinal infections.

Lead researcher Dr. Julii Brainard said: “The kinds of technologies that we considered included filtration, germicidal lights, ionizers and any other way of safely removing viruses or deactivating them in breathable air.

The “disappointing” findings state that many technologies designed to keep social spaces safe are not effective in the real world. PHOTO BY TIM MOSSHOLDER/UNSPLASH 

“In short, we found no strong evidence that air treatment technologies are likely to protect people in real-world settings.

“There is a lot of existing evidence that environmental and surface contamination can be reduced by several air treatment strategies, especially germicidal lights and high-efficiency particulate air filtration (HEPA).

“But the combined evidence was that these technologies don’t stop or reduce illness.”

Dr. Brainard continued: “There was some weak evidence that the air treatment methods reduced the likelihood of infection, but this evidence seems biased and imbalanced.

“We strongly suspect that there were some relevant studies with very minor or no effect, but these were never published.

“Our findings are disappointing – but it is vital that public health decision-makers have a full picture.

“Hopefully those studies that have been done during Covid will be published soon and we can make a more informed judgment about what the value of air treatment may have been during the pandemic.”

The study was published in the journal Preventive Medicine.

Produced in association with SWNS Talker

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