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Can an Air Purifier Kill Ebola?

ebola-virus-300Short answer: no. Not for now, anyway.

What this means is the following:

There are some air purifiers that use ultraviolet light as part of their filtration system. UV and UVC rays have been known to "inactivate" or kill common microorganisms and viruses like the cold and flu.

In air purifiers, this is usually used in combination with HEPA filters or HEPA-like filters to compound a unit's effectiveness. However, according to Air Purifier Guide, "even the best HEPA filter will not kill viruses, however, and can lose its effectiveness at trapping viruses as the particulate matter builds up and causes more resistance to the airflow."

Regular air purifiers that do not use UV light and only have a HEPA filter have no chance at killing Ebola. All they do is reduce microbes in the air to prevent their spread. They do not kill these microbes, they only trap them in their filters.

Additionally, UV lights used in air purifiers with HEPA filters only kill the microbes that are effectively trapped by the filter. So if the filters have not been cleaned or there is not sufficient air flow for any reason, these units would not be effective in killing serious viruses like Ebola.

There have been scientific suggestions that UV light could play a role in future bacterial and perhaps even viral eradication.

According to the 2013 article "Virulence," created by Landes Bioscience, "the first observation how microorganisms respond to [sun]light was in the nineteenth century.... At this time it was already known that inactivation or disinfection of surfaces was dependent on intensity, duration, and wavelength of the light."

One of the most recent studies of UV light on viruses uses this known concept for an experiment meant to "determine the inactivation kinetics produced by exposure to germicidal UV (UVC, 254 nm radiation) of viruses relevant to public health and biodefense that were deposited and dried onto surfaces."

According to the International Ultraviolet Association (IUVA), this 2010 Sagripanti and Lytle study of the effectiveness of UVGI against virulent diseases, demonstrated the differences in UV sensitivity between three viruses, including Ebola. The study was called "Sensitivity to Ultraviolet Radiation of Lassa, vaccinia and Ebola viruses Dried on Surfaces," and showed that UVGI (Ultraviolet Germicidal Irradiant) left "three to four percent of UV-protected irradiated virus particles."

Different viruses have different levels of resistance to various harmful elements. Of the three viruses exposed to UV, Ebola did not have the highest UV resistance, Lassa did. The conclusion of this case is that UV light does have some effect on viruses like Ebola, but no "magic number" of UV dosage that could eradicate the disease was mentioned.

This study only suggests that there is potential for more serious studies of how UV light affects serious viruses like Ebola, and does not suggest the potential for the actual use and application of UV light for this purpose.

uv-ultraviolet-lamp-300Even though hospitals currently use UV lights as a method of ultraviolet germicidal irradiation (UVGI) in order to neutralize any bacterial or viral airborne microbes that could be lurking in hospital hallways, Air Purifier Guide states, "For residential applications, however, the EPA warns that there is no standard to measure the effectiveness of UV cleaners and portable units and they probably have a limited effectiveness in combating viruses."

Even if there was strong evidence of UV light being the answer, it does not guarantee that currently available UV-equipped air purifiers use the right dosage or intensity of UV light to be effective enough on serious, life threatening viruses like Ebola.

As Air Purifier Guide mentioned on its site, "For UV lights to be most effective they need to be exposed to the air flow longer than most residential units allow. Therefore, the most effective air purifier designs direct the UV lamp onto the HEPA filter so the particles trapped by the filter are treated by the UV lamp for a sufficient period of time to destroy the viruses."

This means that most consumer air purifier products are simply not powerful enough to make our dreams of ending this Ebola nightmare come true.

For example, among the equipment used in a study by the the Center for Disease Control (CDC) that combined HEPA filters with UV light was a $6250 HEPA filter with internal UV lamps that weighed about 200lbs. An air purifier would have to meet similar standards to be used with the same applications. Marketplace access to this equipment for personal use and protection against Ebola is not practical.

At this point, the air purifier technology currently available is not efficient enough to keep you safe from Ebola or any other disease for which there isn't even a vaccine developed.

According to the study by the CDC, "Despite the fact that filtration have been used to reduce indoor pollutant concentrations in many settings, and that filtration has been shown to be effective in controlling a number of indoor airborne contaminants, little is known about the uses with regard to decreasing the risk of infectious diseases. There is also a need to explore the effectiveness of combining filtration with other engineering controls such as UVGI in removing bioaerosols."

This further shows that use of UV light to combat serious viruses is still in its early, yet promising, stages.

The results of an experiment that included the use of a HEPA filter with internal UV lamps (HEPA-UV) showed that "portable cleaners could be used to enhance the rate of bioaerosol inactivation due to UVGI and vice versa" (CDC, 2002).

It indicated that the use of UV light made some difference in the experiment -- but this experiment tested airborne contaminants and the use of air filtration and UV lights to reduce their numbers. It doesn't even apply to Ebola.

Ebola is not known to be an airborne virus.

Ebola mainly spreads through contact with bodily fluids. This includes saliva, sweat, vomit, blood, human waste, dead bodies, and sexually transmitted fluids. The CDC states that "the virus can enter the body through broken skin or unprotected mucous membranes in, for example, the eyes, nose, or mouth."

So the usefulness that air filtration or purification has in reducing Ebola is lacking.

woman-medical-mask-300However, there are many references to the real life 1989 incident that the movie "The Hot Zone" is about, when a strain of Ebola that was specific only to monkeys went airborne. Among humans, Ebola is believed to have a slim chance at mutating to become transmitted through the air.

Nevertheless, the virus' genetic mutations are being monitored in the U.S., but are not being monitored as thoroughly, if at all, in West Africa. In a nutshell, airborne Ebola is physically possible, but not very likely.

But here's something to keep in mind:

When a person infected with Ebola coughs intensely, it's possible for their spit to project out of their mouth and through the air. If this spittle lands on an unsuspecting friend or neighbor who might have been talking face to face with the coughing person, it is possible for that friend or neighbor to become infected with Ebola.

But this still does not mean that Ebola is airborne. In this scenario, the virus is not propelled out of the lungs and into the air, it stays attached to the bodily fluid that just so happened to be coughed out and onto another person.

It helps to stay safe at all costs and limit contact with anyone who might be sick, and though trying to apply an air purifying solution to a non-airborne problem is a remarkable blend of trying too hard and not trying enough, no one is going to stop you if you tried to buy an air purifier with a UV filter.

Since there is no known cure for Ebola, and since the CDC says that there is no FDA-approved vaccine for Ebola, the next best thing is prevention.

Preventing Ebola:

  • Do not touch a person infected with Ebola. What should always be kept in mind is that Ebola is spread through body fluids. This means that skin-on-skin contact can easily transmit Ebola from one person to another, especially if the infected person has been sweating or bleeding.
  • Do not touch items that an infected person has come in contact with. If someone with Ebola has been coughing or sneezing on themselves or has sweat or bled, whatever they touch can easily carry the Ebola virus.
  • Wear protective gear. It is not recommended that you touch anything or anyone with Ebola, but if you must, for whatever reason, wear personal protective equipment (PPE) like a mask, gloves, gowns, and even eye protection.
  • Practice good hygiene. Maintaining your personal cleanliness is key to preventing your own infection or the spreading of the virus to anyone else if you have come into contact with Ebola.
  • Stay informed. For further information about Ebola or any current developments, refer to expert sites like the Center for Disease Control (CDC). They even created this handy ebook that was actually meant for healthcare workers in underdeveloped African healthcare settings with Ebola victims, but there is further information on DIY preventative methods you might be interested in.

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