How We View Air

Whenever I got sick as a young child, my mom insisted upon opening my windows in the mornings to let fresh air in. She claimed it would help me get better if we let clean air in to flush out the dirty air. To me, it was a nuisance. I had the chills and resented the loss of warm, comfortable air from the room.

Over the past few years, I’ve been thinking more about indoor air. The number of posts on the subject on this blog alone could probably make up a small novel. And research on indoor air and the microbes that dwell in it is on the rise. A recent article on Popular Science touches upon the subject of microbes in indoor air and ventilation systems. The article seems a bit sensationalist at times, but it brings up some good points. For instance, research on air-dwelling microbes dropped after the discovery of antibiotics because doctors thought they didn’t need to study how pathogens were spread if they had the “cure” to so many of them.

A large part of the article talks about influenza transmission through ventilation systems and the air shared by sick and healthy people alike. It also addresses how our collective views on air and ventilation affect the virus’ movement. For instance, influenza is transmitted better in dry air, but winter months call for heavy heater usage in most building, effectively creating an optimal environment for the virus to spread.

I think part of the reason why ventilation and indoor air in general is so worrisome is because there is a culture of ignorance surrounding it. No one will be able to convince me that the clearly dusty and dirty ducts in most buildings I enter are doing anything good for indoor air. I’m also surprised at how many windows don’t open. Although there is little evidence to support the hypothesis that opening windows benefits the occupants of an indoor space, there is something to be said of simply circulating the air in a room, among other things.

So, for the umpteenth time in my life, my mom might have actually been right.

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Alex Alexiev

Alex Alexiev is a recent UC Davis graduate with a BS in microbiology working in Jonathan Eisen’s lab on aquariums as part of the microbiology of the built environment.