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Closed Windows in Hospital Rooms May Raise Infection Risk

FRIDAY, April 19 (HealthDay News) -- Closed windows in large hospital wards may increase patients' risk of getting an infection, a new study suggests.

British researchers used carbon dioxide as a tracer gas to simulate how airborne infections spread in a traditional hospital ward, which typically includes two rows of up to 30 beds.

The carbon dioxide represented potentially infectious exhaled breath, and was released by popping carbon dioxide-filled balloons. Carbon dioxide detectors were placed where beds might be located in a functioning ward.

"By measuring the concentration of the gas over time, we were able to quantify the exposure at each bed and therefore the potential risk to a patient in that bed," study team member Laura Pickin said in a University of Leeds news release. "We were also able to use the same data to measure the overall ventilation rate in the ward."

When the windows were open, ventilation in the ward was generally good and the risk of airborne infection low. But the danger of infection increased fourfold when the windows were closed, according to the study in the current online issue of the Building and Environment Journal.

"These wards are still in operation and, although they have often been subdivided into smaller areas with six to eight beds, their ventilation and structure is still fundamentally the same," lead investigator Cath Noakes, from the University of Leeds' School of Civil Engineering, said in the news release.

With natural ventilation from windows, the wards are safe. But that changes when the windows are closed during the winter or permanently sealed to lower energy costs.

"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," Noakes said.

More information

The National Patient Safety Foundation explains what you can do to prevent hospital infections.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: University of Leeds, news release, April 16, 2013

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