Should homes and workplaces purchase portable air filters to reduce the transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and other respiratory infections? A systematic review

PLoS One. 2021 Apr 29;16(4):e0251049. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0251049. eCollection 2021.


Respiratory infections, including SARS-CoV-2, are spread via inhalation or ingestion of airborne pathogens. Airborne transmission is difficult to control, particularly indoors. Manufacturers of high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters claim they remove almost all small particles including airborne bacteria and viruses. This study investigates whether modern portable, commercially available air filters reduce the incidence of respiratory infections and/or remove bacteria and viruses from indoor air. We systematically searched Medline, Embase and Cochrane for studies published between January 2000 and September 2020. Studies were eligible for inclusion if they included a portable, commercially available air filter in any indoor setting including care homes, schools or healthcare settings, investigating either associations with incidence of respiratory infections or removal and/or capture of aerosolised bacteria and viruses from the air within the filters. Dual data screening and extraction with narrative synthesis. No studies were found investigating the effects of air filters on the incidence of respiratory infections. Two studies investigated bacterial capture within filters and bacterial load in indoor air. One reported higher numbers of viable bacteria in the HEPA filter than in floor dust samples. The other reported HEPA filtration combined with ultraviolet light reduced bacterial load in the air by 41% (sampling time not reported). Neither paper investigated effects on viruses. There is an important absence of evidence regarding the effectiveness of a potentially cost-efficient intervention for indoor transmission of respiratory infections, including SARS-CoV-2. Two studies provide 'proof of principle' that air filters can capture airborne bacteria in an indoor setting. Randomised controlled trials are urgently needed to investigate effects of portable HEPA filters on incidence of respiratory infections.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Air Filters* / microbiology
  • Air Filters* / virology
  • Air Pollution, Indoor / prevention & control*
  • Bacteria / isolation & purification
  • COVID-19 / prevention & control*
  • Communicable Disease Control / methods
  • Housing
  • Humans
  • Respiratory Tract Infections / prevention & control*
  • SARS-CoV-2 / isolation & purification*
  • Viruses / isolation & purification
  • Workplace

Grants and funding

National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Senior Investigator Award for ADH (NIHR NIHR200151). The funder of the study had no role in study design, data collection, data analysis, data interpretation, or writing of the report. The corresponding author had full access to all the data in the study and had final responsibility for the decision to submit for publication.