Background: Laboratory research studies indicate that aerosolized influenza viruses survive for longer periods at low relative humidity (RH) conditions. Further analysis has shown that absolute humidity (AH) may be an improved predictor of virus survival in the environment. Maintaining airborne moisture levels that reduce survival of the virus in the air and on surfaces could be another tool for managing public health risks of influenza.
Methods: A multi-zone indoor air quality model was used to evaluate the ability of portable humidifiers to control moisture content of the air and the potential related benefit of decreasing survival of influenza viruses in single-family residences. We modeled indoor AH and influenza virus concentrations during winter months (Northeast US) using the CONTAM multi-zone indoor air quality model. A two-story residential template was used under two different ventilation conditions - forced hot air and radiant heating. Humidity was evaluated on a room-specific and whole house basis. Estimates of emission rates for influenza virus were particle-size specific and derived from published studies and included emissions during both tidal breathing and coughing events. The survival of the influenza virus was determined based on the established relationship between AH and virus survival.
Results: The presence of a portable humidifier with an output of 0.16 kg water per hour in the bedroom resulted in an increase in median sleeping hours AH/RH levels of 11 to 19% compared to periods without a humidifier present. The associated percent decrease in influenza virus survival was 17.5 - 31.6%. Distribution of water vapor through a residence was estimated to yield 3 to 12% increases in AH/RH and 7.8-13.9% reductions in influenza virus survival.
Conclusion: This modeling analysis demonstrates the potential benefit of portable residential humidifiers in reducing the survival of aerosolized influenza virus by controlling humidity indoors.