High-Efficiency Particulate Air Filters in the Era of COVID-19: Function and Efficacy

Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2020 Dec;163(6):1153-1155. doi: 10.1177/0194599820941838. Epub 2020 Jul 14.


Aerosol-generating procedures in the office represent a major concern for health care-associated infection of patients and health care providers by SARS-CoV-2, the causative agent for coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has not yet provided any recommendations for the use of portable air purifiers, air purifiers with high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters have been discussed as an adjunctive means for decontamination of SARS-CoV-2 aerosols in health care settings. This commentary discusses HEPA filter mechanisms of action, decontamination time based on efficiency and flow rate, theoretical application to SARS-CoV-2, and limitations. HEPA filter functionality and prior guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for SARS-CoV-1 suggest theoretical efficacy for HEPA filters to decontaminate airborne SARS-CoV-2, although direct studies for SARS-CoV-2 have not been performed. Any portable HEPA purifier utilization for SARS-CoV-2 should be considered an adjunctive infection control measure and undertaken with knowledge of HEPA filter functionality and limitations in mind.

Keywords: COVID-19; HEPA; SARS-CoV-2; air purifier; coronavirus; high-efficiency particulate air filter.

MeSH terms

  • Air Filters*
  • COVID-19 / prevention & control*
  • COVID-19 / transmission
  • Disease Transmission, Infectious / prevention & control*
  • Equipment Design
  • Humans
  • Infection Control / instrumentation*
  • Infection Control / methods
  • Pandemics
  • Particulate Matter
  • SARS-CoV-2*


  • Particulate Matter