Can air-conditioning systems contribute to the spread of SARS/MERS/COVID-19 infection? Insights from a rapid review of the literature

Francesco Chirico, Angelo Sacco, Nicola Luigi Bragazzi, Nicola Magnavita

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

Abstract

The airborne transmission of SARS-CoV-2 is still debated. The aim of this rapid review is to evaluate the COVID-19 risk associated with the presence of air-conditioning systems. Original studies (both observational and experimental researches) written in English and with no limit on time, on the airborne transmission of SARS-CoV, MERS-CoV, and SARS-CoV-2 coronaviruses that were associated with outbreaks, were included. Searches were made on PubMed/MEDLINE, PubMed Central (PMC), Google Scholar databases, and medRxiv. A snowball strategy was adopted to extend the search. Fourteen studies reporting outbreaks of coronavirus infection associated with the air-conditioning systems were included. All studies were carried out in the Far East. In six out the seven studies on SARS, the role of Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC) in the outbreak was indirectly proven by the spatial and temporal pattern of cases, or by airflow-dynamics models. In one report on MERS, the contamination of HVAC by viral particles was demonstrated. In four out of the six studies on SARS-CoV-2, the diffusion of viral particles through HVAC was suspected or supported by computer simulation. In conclusion, there is sufficient evidence of the airborne transmission of coronaviruses in previous Asian outbreaks, and this has been taken into account in the guidelines released by organizations and international agencies for controlling the spread of SARS-CoV-2 in indoor environments. However, the technological differences in HVAC systems prevent the generalization of the results on a worldwide basis. The few COVID-19 investigations available do not provide sufficient evidence that the SARS-CoV-2 virus can be transmitted by HVAC systems.

Original languageEnglish
Article number6052
Pages (from-to)1-11
Number of pages11
JournalInternational Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health
Volume17
Issue number17
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Sep 1 2020

Keywords

  • Airborne transmission
  • MERS-CoV
  • Outbreak
  • Prevention
  • Safety
  • SARS-CoV-1
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Ventilation
  • Workplace

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis

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