Negative pressure rooms, commonly known as Airborne Infection Isolation Rooms (AIIRs) or negative isolation rooms, are special rooms in hospitals that allow air to flow into the room but not escape it. As a result, they isolate the air from other patients, health staff and visitors in the hospital. They control airflow within the room using several mechanisms. Some of these mechanisms include:
- Using automatic doors and windows that can’t be opened
- Using High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters to purify the air
- Utilizing air pressure control and monitoring systems
- Diluting contaminated air or particles with plenty of fresh air
- Using exhaust systems that draw contaminated air out of the room
These rooms are essential to the smooth running of hospitals. Here are six reasons why hospitals should use negative pressure rooms.
1. Prevent the spread of contagious diseases
AIIRs can prevent the spread of contagious diseases. They allow air from outside the room to flow in while preventing air from inside from flowing out. As a result, they can be used to isolate patients with airborne infectious diseases such as influenza, chickenpox, measles, tuberculosis, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV), and Coronavirus (COVID-19) from other people.
2. Prevent the spread of bad odors
Negative air pressure can prevent foul odors from diffusing through hospitals. In negative air pressure rooms, the air pressure inside is lower than the air pressure outside. As a result, when the room’s door is opened, air particles won’t escape from the room, thus minimizing the spread of unpleasant smells.
3. Prevent the spread of other contaminants
Negative isolation rooms are essential to containing the transmission of infectious diseases. But they can also stop the spread of contaminants. Using High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters, negative pressure rooms purify the air and keep it contaminant free.
4. Prevent the spread of pathogens during AGPs
Aerosol generating procedures (AGPs), are medical procedures that produce airborne particles known as aerosols. Aerosols are small droplets that can travel over a fairly long distance and cause infection if inhaled. Well-ventilated negative pressure rooms with shut doors can prevent the spread of infectious droplets during AGPs.
5. Protect healthcare staff and visitors
Negative isolation rooms aren’t solely for patients. They can also include bathrooms, waiting rooms, and triage areas. Therefore, apart from isolating patients with infectious diseases, negative pressure rooms can also protect healthcare staff and visitors from contracting infectious diseases. And to bolster protection, some negative pressure rooms provide an anteroom where medical staff can safely change into or out of protective attire and move or prepare medical equipment.
6. Contain the spread of harmful fumes
Hospitals with laboratories where lab technicians work with harmful chemicals need to provide negative pressure rooms. The rooms can create negative airflow and prevent the spread of harmful fumes throughout the hospital.
How to test a negative pressure room
Currently, there are guidelines from the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention on how to appropriately control infectious diseases in hospitals. However, the guidelines don’t have an evaluation procedure for negative pressure rooms.
However, to test the pressure inside a negative isolation room, a simple tissue test can be carried out. To perform the test, a small piece of tissue is placed at the bottom of the negative pressure room door from inside the room. If the paper is pushed back into the room, it is negatively pressurized.
Overall, negative pressure rooms are essential for preventing the spread of infectious diseases. Therefore, at this critical time, they are vital to the fight against COVID-19. However, apart from curbing the transmission of contagious diseases, these rooms can also prevent the spread of bad odors, contaminants, harmful fumes and pathogens during AGPs. Plus, they can protect healthcare staff and visitors in hospitals from contracting infectious diseases. Therefore, hospitals need negative pressure rooms.