Effectiveness of filtering or decontaminating air to reduce or prevent respiratory infections: A systematic review

Julii Brainard, Natalia R. Jones, Isabel Catalina Swindells, Elizabeth J. Archer, Anastasia Kolyva, Charlotte Letley, Katharine Pond, Iain R. Lake, Paul R. Hunter

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Installation of technologies to remove or deactivate respiratory pathogens from indoor air is a plausible non-pharmaceutical infectious disease control strategy. Objective: We undertook a systematic review of worldwide observational and experimental studies, published 1970–2022, to synthesise evidence about the effectiveness of suitable indoor air treatment technologies to prevent respiratory or gastrointestinal infections. Methods: We searched for data about infection and symptom outcomes for persons who spent minimum 20 h/week in shared indoor spaces subjected to air treatment strategies hypothesised to change risk of respiratory or gastrointestinal infections or symptoms. Results: Pooled data from 32 included studies suggested no net benefits of air treatment technologies for symptom severity or symptom presence, in absence of confirmed infection. Infection incidence was lower in three cohort studies for persons exposed to high efficiency particulate air filtration (RR 0.4, 95%CI 0.28–0.58, p < 0.001) and in one cohort study that combined ionisers with electrostatic nano filtration (RR 0.08, 95%CI 0.01–0.60, p = 0.01); other types of air treatment technologies and air treatment in other study designs were not strongly linked to fewer infections. The infection outcome data exhibited strong publication bias. Conclusions: Although environmental and surface samples are reduced after air treatment by several air treatment strategies, especially germicidal lights and high efficiency particulate air filtration, robust evidence has yet to emerge that these technologies are effective at reducing respiratory or gastrointestinal infections in real world settings. Data from several randomised trials have yet to report and will be welcome to the evidence base.

Original languageEnglish
Article number107774
JournalPreventive Medicine
Early online date20 Nov 2023
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2023


  • respiratory infections
  • symptoms
  • indoor
  • air filtration
  • air sterilisation
  • Air sterilisation
  • Respiratory infections
  • Indoor
  • Symptoms
  • Air filtration

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