Much like the common flu, SARS is spread by close contact. When a person with SARS coughs or sneezes, or even during normal breathing, they contaminate the surrounding air with tiny droplets of infected matter. Someone in close proximity of the infected person can then become infected by breathing the contaminated air. According to the CDC, "It is possible that SARS can also spread more broadly through the air." Since there is no specific antiviral treatment for SARS, the most effective strategy is containment. While it is the WHO's first objective to prevent the international spread of this deadly disease, local health care institutions have begun looking for infection control measures that will help prevent further infections inside the hospitals themselves.
The HKHA currently manages 43 public hospitals, 47 specialist outpatient clinics, and 13 general outpatient clinics in Hong Kong. The region was one of the worst affected areas in last winter's SARS epidemic with 1,755 reported SARS cases (376 of which concerned healthcare workers), resulting in a total of 300 deaths.
"Nearly one-fourth of all SARS infections in last winter's epidemic involved healthcare workers," said Robert Wiltbank, vice president of Medical Air Solutions, a company that advises hospitals on infection control measures. "The risk of the disease being transmitted to other patients or healthcare workers is a major worldwide concern."
The HKHA focused on special engineering controls as part of its strategy in the fight against SARS. In order to find the most effective and reliable solution the Electrical and Mechanical Services Department (EMSD) of the Hong Kong Government performed tests on HVAC systems and room air cleaners. With the help of sophisticated laser particle counters that record the number of particles in the air, even those down below the size of a virus, the EMSD tested the filtration efficiency of a number of air filtration systems. After weeks of testing and the installation of several trial systems, the HKHA chose the IQAir room air cleaner.
In the event that SARS is suspected in a patient, the HKHA will place a self-contained mobile air cleaning system next to the patient's bed in Hong Kong hospitals. A flexible suction arm attached to the machine will be positioned near the patient's face to capture airborne droplets that are expelled by coughing and sneezing. The contaminated air will then be drawn into the system and filtered in a four-stage filtration process. At the final filtration stage the air cleaning system will remove the finest airborne particulates, including the SARS virus, from the air. As a result, the risk of infection within the patient's room can be greatly reduced, thus providing a safer working environment for healthcare personnel and reducing the possibility of spreading of the disease, says the company.
"This is true prevention," stated Frank Hammes, president of IQAir North America. "Hong Kong is breaking new ground in infection control."
For more information, visit www.iqair.com.
Publication date: 10/20/2003