The chance of infection in some hospital wards varies dramatically according to whether the nurses leave the windows open.
A University of Leeds-led team studied airflow in a "Nightingale" warda classic hospital ward design that traditionally accommodates two rows of up to 30 bedsby using tracer gases to simulate how airborne infections spread.
They found ventilation in the ward was generally good when windows were left open, keeping the danger of airborne infection low. But risks increased fourfold when the windows were closed.
Lead investigator Dr Cath Noakes, from the University of Leeds' School of Civil Engineering, said: "These wards are still in operation and, although they have often been subdivided into smaller areas with 6-8 beds, their ventilation and structure is still fundamentally the same.
"We found that when you operate them properly, with natural ventilation from the windows, they perform as the [United Kingdom's] Department of Health would like them to. But we also asked what happens in the winter if the windows are closed?
"There is a big push on energy in buildings and it worries many of us who work on indoor air quality. People are being told to seal up their buildings to save energy. We found, if you do that without alternative ventilation systems, you could be increasing the airborne infection risk significantly," Dr Noakes said.
"Some of these wards were designed by the Victorians, and our results show that they knew what they were doing. But there is a danger that we could be adapting our buildings to improve efficiency without thinking how it might affect patients," Dr Noakes said.
The study, conducted jointly with the Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust in a disused ward at St. Luke's Hospital in Bradford, England in summer 2010, used carbon dioxide as a tracer gas to represent potentially infectious exhaled breath.
Carbon dioxide detectors were po
|Contact: Chris Bunting|
University of Leeds