Air Passing Through HVAC Systems Provides Early Warning of COVID-19

HVAC systems not only keep facility residents comfortable, they also can signal whether indoor air is harboring viruses. Researchers at East Carolina University in Greenville, North Carolina, found a new way to detect whether the SARS-CoV-2 virus is in a building by testing the air passing through ventilation systems, WITN-TV reports.

The study, which was published in The American Journal of Infection Control, set out to determine whether SARS-CoV-2 could be detected through HVAC systems in students dorms. Researchers collected samples from two large student dorms and an isolation suite housing students that had tested positive for COVID-19 several times per week for more than three months beginning in January 2021.

Researchers collected 248 air samples and sent them to a lab for analysis. The testing revealed the presence of SARS-COV-2 in the isolation suite air samples 100% of the time. In the dorms where students were not already in COVID-19 isolation, researchers were able to detect the virus in the air samples 75% of the time when students on the same floor later tested positive via nasal swab.

The researchers believe implementing building air sampling on a broader scale could allow for earlier detection of the virus, particularly in shared spaces.