Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) is primarily transmitted by bio-aerosol droplets or direct personal contacts. This paper presents a detailed study of environmental evidence of possible airborne transmission in a hospital ward during the largest nosocomial SARS outbreak in Hong Kong in March 2003. Retrospective on-site inspections and measurements of the ventilation design and air distribution system were carried out on July 17, 2003. Limited on-site measurements of bio-aerosol dispersion were also carried out on July 22. Computational fluid dynamics simulations were performed to analyze the bio-aerosol dispersion in the hospital ward. We attempted to predict the air distribution during the time of measurement in July 2003 and the time of exposure in March 2003. The predicted bio-aerosol concentration distribution in the ward seemed to agree fairly well with the spatial infection pattern of SARS cases. Possible improvement to air distribution in the hospital ward was also considered.
Practical implications: Our study revealed the need for the development of improved ventilation and air-conditioning systems in an isolation ward or a general hospital ward for infectious respiratory diseases. The outbreak in Ward 8A, which was in a general hospital and could house nearly 40 patients, demonstrated the cross-infection risks of respiratory infectious diseases in hospitals if a potential highly infectious patient was not identified and isolated. Our example simulation, which extended the SARS Busters' design for an isolation room to Ward 8A, demonstrated that there was room for improvement to minimize cross-infection in large general hospital wards.