December 2003

Solution to hospital infections could be in the air

A breakthrough in the fight against infections acquired in hospital could be achieved thanks to pioneering new research.

The project is investigating the use of ionisers to eradicate airborne infections in hospitals a technique that could deliver major health benefits and financial savings.

Starting in December, the 3-year initiative will be carried out by engineers at the University of Leeds with funding from the Swindon-based Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

Infections originating in hospital are a serious and widespread problem, affecting around 10% of patients during their stay. There is increasing evidence that up to 20% of these infections are transmitted by an airborne route at a cost of 100-200 million a year in England alone.

The project will build on a recent successful study at St James's University Hospital in Leeds. This found that using ionisers to negatively charge air particles in an intensive care unit prevented all infections caused by the Acinetobacter pathogen. Immune to nearly all currently available antibiotics, Acinetobacter infections are a growing problem in hospitals and can be fatal in some groups of patients.

In the new project, the same team will set out to understand the science behind this success and provide a firm basis for future use of the technique. They will focus on the biological and physical processes associated with negative air ionisation and airborne transmission of infection, and establish guidelines for the effective use of ionisers in hospital buildings.

Much of the research will be carried out in the University's state-of-the-art aerobiological test facility, which was part funded by EPSRC. The facility incorporates a 32m3 climatic chamber where temperature, humidity and ventilation rate can be varied and controlled. The chamber enables researchers to mimic various clinical environments and perform a wide range of experiments involving aerosols doped with micro-organisms.

The project team is being led by Dr Clive Beggs of the University of Leeds' Aerobiological Research Group. Dr Beggs says: "Negative air ionisation could have a dramatic impact on a problem that has been attracting increasing publicity and causing growing concern".

Notes for Editors:

The research initiative, "The Use of Small Negative Air Ions to Disinfect Acinetobacter SPP and Other Airborne Pathogens in Hospital Buildings", will receive EPSRC funding of over 280,000.

The Aerobiological Research Group is a leader in the investigation of the behaviour of airborne micro-organisms and the use of engineering measures to control infection.

The previous study undertaken at St James's University Hospital was funded by NHS Estates.

A pathogen is a microbe that causes disease.

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) is the UK's main agency for funding research in engineering and the physical sciences. EPSRC invests more than 500 million a year in research and postgraduate training to help the nation handle the next generation of technological change. The areas covered range from information technology to structural engineering, and from mathematics to materials science. This research forms the basis for future economic development in the UK and improvements in everyone's health, lifestyle and culture. EPSRC also actively promotes public awareness of science and engineering. EPSRC works alongside other Research Councils with responsibility for other areas of research. The Research Councils work collectively on issues of common concern via Research Councils UK. Website address for more information on EPSRC:

For more information, contact:

Dr Clive Beggs, Aerobiological Research Group, School of Civil Engineering, University of Leeds, Tel: 0113 343 2269/ 2303, E-mail:

Jane Reck, EPSRC Press Officer, Tel: 01793 444312, E-mail: An image is available of the aerobiological test chamber from Jane Reck. (jpg: hospital pathogens chamber/Beggs story)

This article comes from Science Blog. Copyright 2004

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