Role of ventilation in airborne transmission of infectious agents in the built environment - a multidisciplinary systematic review

Indoor Air. 2007 Feb;17(1):2-18. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0668.2006.00445.x.


There have been few recent studies demonstrating a definitive association between the transmission of airborne infections and the ventilation of buildings. The severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) epidemic in 2003 and current concerns about the risk of an avian influenza (H5N1) pandemic, have made a review of this area timely. We searched the major literature databases between 1960 and 2005, and then screened titles and abstracts, and finally selected 40 original studies based on a set of criteria. We established a review panel comprising medical and engineering experts in the fields of microbiology, medicine, epidemiology, indoor air quality, building ventilation, etc. Most panel members had experience with research into the 2003 SARS epidemic. The panel systematically assessed 40 original studies through both individual assessment and a 2-day face-to-face consensus meeting. Ten of 40 studies reviewed were considered to be conclusive with regard to the association between building ventilation and the transmission of airborne infection. There is strong and sufficient evidence to demonstrate the association between ventilation, air movements in buildings and the transmission/spread of infectious diseases such as measles, tuberculosis, chickenpox, influenza, smallpox and SARS. There is insufficient data to specify and quantify the minimum ventilation requirements in hospitals, schools, offices, homes and isolation rooms in relation to spread of infectious diseases via the airborne route. PRACTICAL IMPLICATION: The strong and sufficient evidence of the association between ventilation, the control of airflow direction in buildings, and the transmission and spread of infectious diseases supports the use of negatively pressurized isolation rooms for patients with these diseases in hospitals, in addition to the use of other engineering control methods. However, the lack of sufficient data on the specification and quantification of the minimum ventilation requirements in hospitals, schools and offices in relation to the spread of airborne infectious diseases, suggest the existence of a knowledge gap. Our study reveals a strong need for a multidisciplinary study in investigating disease outbreaks, and the impact of indoor air environments on the spread of airborne infectious diseases.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Air Microbiology / standards*
  • Air Movements
  • Communicable Diseases / transmission*
  • Cross Infection
  • Humans
  • Infection Control / standards*
  • Ventilation / standards*