Shutting down operating theater ventilation when the theater is not in use: infection control and environmental aspects

Infect Control Hosp Epidemiol. 2003 Aug;24(8):596-600. doi: 10.1086/502260.


Objective: In hospital operating rooms (ORs), specially conditioned air is supplied to protect patients from airborne agents that may cause infections. This study investigated whether it is hygienically safe to shut down the air supply at night if measures are taken to ensure a timely restart before surgery is performed.

Design: Experimental study.

Setting: Neurosurgical OR of a German university hospital.

Methods: The ventilation system was switched off and restarted after 10 hours. Particles suspended in the air near the operating table were counted, OR temperature was measured, and settle plates were exposed and incubated.

Results: In 13 investigations, a median of 1.3 x 10(4) particles 0.5 microm/m3 or greater (range, 5.8 x 10(3) to 1.1 x 10(5)) were documented immediately after restart in the morning. After 10 minutes and subsequently, no test showed a particle count exceeding the threshold limit of 1.0 x 10(4) particles 0.5 microm/m3 or greater recommended by the German Society of Hygiene and Microbiology. Only a few colony-forming units (CFU) were detected per settle plate (median, 0 CFU/60 cm2; range, 0 to 8) and OR temperatures quickly reached normal levels.

Conclusions: Shutting down OR ventilation during off-duty periods does not appear to result in an unacceptably high particle count or microbial contamination of the OR air shortly after the system is restarted. Because substantial energy and cost savings are likely, this should be considered in hygienically safe heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems. However, normal ventilation should be established at least 30 minutes before surgical activity.

MeSH terms

  • Academic Medical Centers
  • Air Microbiology / standards*
  • Colony Count, Microbial
  • Environmental Monitoring / methods*
  • Germany
  • Humans
  • Infection Control / methods*
  • Maintenance and Engineering, Hospital / methods*
  • Operating Rooms / standards*
  • Particle Size
  • Surgical Wound Infection / prevention & control*
  • Ventilation / instrumentation
  • Ventilation / methods*