Research Article: Assessment of displacement ventilation systems in airborne infection risk in hospital rooms

Date Published: January 30, 2019

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): José Manuel Villafruela, Inés Olmedo, Félix A. Berlanga, Manuel Ruiz de Adana, Esteban Tlelo-Cuautle.


Efficient ventilation in hospital airborne isolation rooms is important vis-à-vis decreasing the risk of cross infection and reducing energy consumption. This paper analyses the suitability of using a displacement ventilation strategy in airborne infection isolation rooms, focusing on health care worker exposure to pathogens exhaled by infected patients. The analysis is mainly based on numerical simulation results obtained with the support of a 3-D transient numerical model validated using experimental data. A thermal breathing manikin lying on a bed represents the source patient and another thermal breathing manikin represents the exposed individual standing beside the bed and facing the patient. A radiant wall represents an external wall exposed to solar radiation. The air change efficiency index and contaminant removal effectiveness indices and inhalation by the health care worker of contaminants exhaled by the patient are considered in a typical airborne infection isolation room set up with three air renewal rates (6 h-1, 9 h-1 and 12 h-1), two exhaust opening positions and two health care worker positions. Results show that the radiant wall significantly affects the air flow pattern and contaminant dispersion. The lockup phenomenon occurs at the inhalation height of the standing manikin. Displacement ventilation renews the air of the airborne isolation room and eliminates the exhaled pollutants efficiently, but is at a disadvantage compared to other ventilation strategies when the risk of exposure is taken into account.

Partial Text

Hospital facilities are places with a high risk of cross infection between their occupants. Studies in European hospitals [1] indicate that nosocomial infections contribute significantly to morbidity and mortality rates and that many of these infections are transmitted by airborne pathogens [2]. Everyday pulmonary activities, like breathing [3], coughing [4,5], sneezing [6], talking [3], are sources of bio-aerosols [7] that may be laden with the pathogens responsible for infectious disease transmission. Once the bio-aerosols leave the infected person their fate depends on multiple and complex factors [7–10]. One of the most important factors is undoubtedly the airflow pattern, both in the room as a whole as well as in the microenvironment around the source patient and the vulnerable individual.

In rooms with displacement ventilation, thermal stratification is generated. The temperature of the exhaled air is higher than the temperature of the ambient air. The effects of buoyancy will play an important role in both the evolution of exhaled air and the dispersion of the associated pathogens. It is therefore crucial to correctly predict the room’s temperature field. This numerical model was previously used to study the dispersion of exhaled contaminants by the mouth of a person standing in a room with DV. The numerical results were compared to data from experiments performed in a full-scale laboratory at the University of Aalborg [55]. It was found that the numerical model was able to accurately reproduce both the thermal stratification in the room and the deflection of the exhaled air jet. Details on the validation of the temperature field are shown in [40].

Detailed transient CFD tests have been carried to determine the suitability of a DV strategy in a representative case study of a one-bed hospital room. Two exhaust configurations, two external wall positions and three air renewal rates have been tested. In view of the results, the following conclusions may be drawn:

This work fails to consider either human movement or the movement of opening and closing doors. An analysis of how human movement affects the air flow pattern of displacement ventilation would prove extremely valuable. A further limitation is that the external wall is simulated with only one heat gain value. In a real situation, heat gain changes during the day and during the seasons. In addition, the study only analyses the exhalation of small respiratory bio-aerosols during breathing. Taking into account other pulmonary activities, such as coughing or sneezing, which expel larger droplets with higher initial momentum, would provide further insights.




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