In this pandemic, can air purifiers prevent the spread of viruses?

In this pandemic, can air purifiers prevent the spread of viruses?

While there is no evidence that an air purifier can remove the SAR-CoV-2 virus, it is still worthwhile investing in an air purifier with a HEPA filter. 

In today’s dust-filled world, air pollutants are inescapable – especially in cities like Singapore. Regardless of where you live, your air supply will not be 100% pristine – but this does not mean the quality of air you breathe in should be compromised. 

Poor air quality can lead to serious health issues depending on your particular sensitivity.

The people who tend to suffer are:

  • Those with allergies
  • Babies
  • Little kids (Some childhood pre-existing conditions like eczema, asthma, allergic rhinitis, and sometimes even chronic lung disease can worsen when they come into contact with pollution)

What are the common air pollutants?

Air pollutants that have the potential to affect our general health and wellbeing can be divided into 3 distinct categories: 

Outdoor air pollutants

This one is self-explanatory; they include any pollutant you encounter while you are outdoors 

Other Airborne pollutants and allergens

These include tobacco smoke, pet dander, and dust to name a few

Fumes 

Your pesticides and household cleaners are usually the culprits. They can be quite overwhelming indoors and are often underestimated. 

Fun fact: did you know that outdoor air pollution can negatively impact birth weight and fetal growth? 

To put it bluntly, air quality IS important and should be taken seriously. As mentioned, it’s impossible to get 100% pristine air, but there are ways you can cut back on pollution. 

One way is through an air purifier


What are air purifiers and how do they work?

Air purifiers, as the name suggests, circulate the air in your home and cleans it, leaving you with better, cleaner air. Air purifiers use highly effective filters that trap the contaminants present in your home. 

All air purifiers are not created equally. So, when you are shopping for one, make sure the air purifier that you purchase has a HEPA filter


What pollutants do air purifiers remove?

Air purifiers with HEPA filters can effectively remove the following pollutants and irritants:

  • Dust mite
  • Dust
  • Pet dander
  • Cigarette smoke
  • Odors
  • Pollen
  • Microbes

All these pollutants can trigger allergic rhinitis, asthma, and eczema1


Can air purifiers remove 99% of airborne viruses?

Yes, but it depends on the air purifier that you choose – so be sure that you pay attention to what the manufacturer claims about the product. As a rule of thumb, we want to look out for the following: 

  • What size of viral particles can the air purifier filter and remove? 
  • What viral load can it manage? 

In order to meet the High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) standard, filters must remove at least 99.97% of particles that are size 0.15 mm- 0.2m.

So yes, in this sense, HEPA filters can remove airborne viruses. However, it is imperative to note that HEPA filters were not invented to remove airborne viruses particularly. So, even though air purifiers will provide a measure of protection, a complete defense may be a bit of a reach.

But I still recommend purchasing an air purifier with a HEPA filter since it still does a pretty decent job at removing viral particles from your home. 


Cleaning purifier filter

Can an air purifier prevent the spread of COVID-19 in your home?

There has been no official approval of HEPA air purifiers to remove SAR-CoV-2(the virus that causes COVID-19) from the air2. The CDC tentatively suggested the HEPA filter should be able to remove the virus. However, there are no studies to test this theory. 

This does not mean that you cannot purchase an air purifier to give you a measure of comfort – but you should still observe all other safety protocols to protect you and your family from the virus.

You will also have the added benefit of clean air in your home.


Will an air purifier really benefit me?

Not just you but pretty much everybody will benefit from cleaner air! The pandemic forced us to be indoors for more hours.

It helps if your home is free of viruses, bacteria, pollutants, and allergens, as this means that you will get sick less often and generally feel better.

You will also see a definite decrease in lower respiratory tract infection when your air purifier removes particle pollutants.

Pollutants may adversely affect your airways, making you more susceptible to infection. For some, your immune system may be slow to fight off infections that affect your respiratory tract.

If you have babies, young children, or take care of your elderly parents at home, all the more you should consider buying an air purifier since these groups can be more susceptible to allergies and have weaker immune systems. 

With an air purifier, you should see a marked improvement in allergic rhinitis, eczema and asthma symptoms.


Any disadvantages I should know about?

Well, you should be aware that air purifiers must be maintained, and filters need to be changed regularly. They also use quite a bit of electricity so there is that cost and air purifiers do leave a carbon footprint behind.

Some air purifiers are on the noisy side, depending on the brand and the model.

However, air purifier technology has improved over the years, and they have become more energy-efficient and quiet.


References

  1. Jia-Ying L, Zhao C, Jia-Jun G, Zi-Jun G, Xiao L, Bao-Qing S. Asian Pac J Allergy Immunol. 2018 Dec;36(4):217-221. doi: 10.12932/AP-010717-0109. PMID: 29549698 Air filtration and SARS-CoV-2.
  2. Nazarenko Y. Epidemiol Health. 2020;42:e 2020049. doi: 10.4178/epih.e2020049. Epub 2020 Jul 4. PMID: 32660218

This article was written and medically reviewed by Dr Ben, M.D on 22/11/21