The global Tuberculosis epidemic and the Ebola outbreak in West Africa demonstrate the urgent need to explore new infection control technologies that can strengthen our defense against emerging pandemic threats from both bacterial and viral pathogens.
The relentless spread of these diseases highlights the need for technologies that are effective at killing a broad spectrum of pathogens. Drug therapies target viral species or certain bacterial strains. There may or may not be a drug available that is effective at clearing the infection once a patient contracts the disease. This is a limitation of all drug therapies. If a drug therapy is effective at treating those infected with a pathogen, viruses and bacteria still continue to evolve. As the bacteria and viruses do so, they can develop resistance to drugs over time.
As an alternative strategy, broad-spectrum infection control technologies are valuable because they are different. They are designed to eliminate or kill essentially all pathogens, and are a uniquely valuable additional line of defense. These technologies fight pathogens both on surfaces and in the air, and they give us another tool in the tool kit that, in addition to drug therapy, is essential in fighting the spread of these diseases.
The need for fighting pathogens in the air may be particularly important to controlling the rapid spread of diseases in our highly mobile society. As Michael Osterholm, PhD, MPH, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, pointed out in his New York Times article regarding the Ebola epidemic, infectious disease experts have considered the possibility that, in the future, the disease may spread to other major cities, and that simply breathing-while never coming into direct contact with an Ebola patient-could put one at risk.
SEE ALSO: Post-Genomic Microbiology
Osterholm stated, “The second possibility is one that virologists are loath to discuss openly but are definitely considering in private: that an Ebola virus could mutate to become transmissible through the air.”1
In a fact sheet published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) regarding the Ebola virus, it was reported that, while all Ebola virus species have displayed the ability to be spread through airborne particles (aerosols) under research conditions, this type of spread had not been documented among humans in a real-world setting, such as a hospital or household.2
No one can predict what mutations may occur in the future for any viral or bacterial species. However, mutations can occur. Mutations in the bacteria that cause Tuberculosis have resulted in several drug-resistant strains that can be transmitted through the air when someone coughs or sneezes. It is critically important that we are prepared to defend and kill these powerful pathogens using drug therapies, but are also employing broad-spectrum technologies that can eliminate them on surfaces and in the air. We must be ready to fight on all fronts to win the war against these deadly pathogens.
The air is a medium through which pathogens are transmitted, and it is a critical variable to control in limiting the spread of infectious disease. It is also of vital importance in the fight against hospital acquired infections (HAIs). HAIs are infections that patients acquire after being in a hospital from contact with surface contamination or from the air, whether from surgery or another event. The type of infection can vary, but research suggests that many of the infections that occur in hospitals are the result of airborne pathogens.3
The same research points out that surface contamination and airborne transmission are virtually inseparable. While protocols and technology for surface contamination, such as masks, draping, proper patient preparation, proper gowning and hand washing have been the focus for many years, the HVAC systems and other technologies that routinely protect our air in healthcare facilities have received far less attention.