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ICUs without air-conditioning could shield doctors from COVID-19: Study

Frontline health workers around the world have borne the brunt of the coronavirus crisis. More than 500 doctors have died from COVID-19 in India - the world's second-worst hit nation - as infections near 8 million, straining the country's weak and underfunded public health system.

October 19, 2020 / 07:54 PM IST

Intensive care units (ICUs) at hospitals treating COVID-19 patients should do away with air-conditioning to limit the risk of infecting doctors, a study from a top Indian research institute has said.

Frontline health workers around the world have borne the brunt of the coronavirus crisis. More than 500 doctors have died from COVID-19 in India - the world's second-worst hit nation - as infections near 8 million, straining the country's weak and underfunded public health system.

"The recirculation of the air by the centralized air-conditioning systems is what has led to the significant infection of our committed medical fraternity and has also led to deaths of doctors and nurses," the study by the Indian Institute of Science in Bengaluru, considered one of the country's best science universities, said.

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Reducing recirculation of air and increasing the use of outdoor air can lower the risk of spreading coronavirus in indoor spaces, the World Health Organisation has said.

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COVID-19 Vaccine

Frequently Asked Questions

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How does a vaccine work?

A vaccine works by mimicking a natural infection. A vaccine not only induces immune response to protect people from any future COVID-19 infection, but also helps quickly build herd immunity to put an end to the pandemic. Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. The good news is that SARS-CoV-2 virus has been fairly stable, which increases the viability of a vaccine.

How many types of vaccines are there?

There are broadly four types of vaccine — one, a vaccine based on the whole virus (this could be either inactivated, or an attenuated [weakened] virus vaccine); two, a non-replicating viral vector vaccine that uses a benign virus as vector that carries the antigen of SARS-CoV; three, nucleic-acid vaccines that have genetic material like DNA and RNA of antigens like spike protein given to a person, helping human cells decode genetic material and produce the vaccine; and four, protein subunit vaccine wherein the recombinant proteins of SARS-COV-2 along with an adjuvant (booster) is given as a vaccine.

What does it take to develop a vaccine of this kind?

Vaccine development is a long, complex process. Unlike drugs that are given to people with a diseased, vaccines are given to healthy people and also vulnerable sections such as children, pregnant women and the elderly. So rigorous tests are compulsory. History says that the fastest time it took to develop a vaccine is five years, but it usually takes double or sometimes triple that time.

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Previous studies have suggested countries in hot climates should take care that indoor rooms are not dried out by overcooling with air conditioning, noting that keeping indoor humidity levels between 40% and 60% will help limit airborne transmission of the virus.

Where air-conditioning can be done away with, ICUs could be fitted with fans that force air inside, and exhaust fans to pull the infected air and treat it with soap-based air filters or very hot water before releasing it outside, the study https://www.iisc.ac.in/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/Redesign-of-ICUs.pdf added.

"(COVID-19) patients in the ICU are active sources of the virus, and they are constantly expelling particles," A.G. Ramakrishnan, the lead author of the study, told Reuters. "So, if you are not filtering the air, it is making things worse."

In ICUs where air-conditioning is necessary, the air conditioning system of the COVID-19 ICU can be de-linked from other ICUs and exhaust fans should be installed to pull any infected air for filtration, the study said.

Follow our full coverage of the coronavirus pandemic here.
Reuters
first published: Oct 19, 2020 07:40 pm

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