Getting the Right Medical Room Pressure

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Getting the Right Medical Room Pressure

With airborne infectious diseases that can easily spread from one person to another, such as the COVID-19 virus, isolation is critical. In a hospital or clinic, an isolation room needs negative pressure to have airflow into the room and avoid pathogens, or germs, from escaping. In addition to viruses, other undesirable contaminants to keep away from the rest of the population and sterile equipment in a hospital include bacteria, fungi, yeasts, molds, pollens, gases, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), small particles and chemicals.

The airflow to create and maintain the negative pressure (vacuum) in the room requires a consistent pressure differential of about 0.01 inch water gauge (in. w.g.) or 2.5 Pascals (Pa).

According to the Facility Guidelines Institute’s (FGI’s) most recent 2018 FGI Guidelines ANSI/ASHRAE/ASHE Standard 170-2017, other rooms that should be negatively pressurized include:

  • Emergency Department Public Waiting Areas
  • Emergency Department Decontamination
  • Radiology Waiting Rooms
  • Triage
  • Bathrooms
  • Airborne Infection Isolation (AII) Rooms
  • Most Laboratory Work Areas
  • Autopsy Rooms
  • Soiled Workrooms or Soiled Holding Rooms
  • Soiled or Decontamination Rooms in Sterile Processing Department
  • Soiled Linen Sorting and Storage
  • Janitors’ Closets

In contrast, protecting the patient and sterile medical and surgical supplies in an operating room requires positive pressure to keep undesirable contaminants outside. The positive pressure room is achieved by pumping in filtered, clean air.

Isolation (Low) vs. operating room (High) pressure

Isolation (Low) vs. operating room (High) pressure.
Source: Minnesota Department of Health

In fact, some portable, headgear-mounted air purifying respirator systems use positive pressure to protect the wearer.

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