Why we love relative humidity (And You Should, Too!) – hint influenza hates it

Why we love relative humidity (And You Should, Too!) – hint influenza hates it

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Stop flu with relative humidity

October is heading our way and even though it will likely be warm this year, October is a time for us to start thinking about influenza and pandemic outbreaks.  Schools often look for ways to keep young minds in their desks and hard at work in the face of Halloween candy, holiday gifts and the flu.   We try washing our hands, sneezing into our sleeves and staying home if we are sick, but what if we could help reduce the influenza virus’ life span without doing all of that?  Is relative humidity the answer?

In 2010 some very smart researchers (Theodore A Myatt, Matthew H Kaufman, Joseph G Allen, David L MacIntosh, M Patricia Fabian and James J McDevitt) conducted a study entitled Modeling the airborne survival of influenza virus in a residential setting: the impacts of home humidification (download it here).  While the study focused on residential settings, it’s findings can be applied to schools and other commercial buildings as well.  So what was the finding?

The researchers found that cool air holds less moisture than warm air resulting in a lower overall relative humidity (RH) – nothing too shocking about that finding.  The real gem was when they found  that the influenza virus can not live as long in a high relative humidity environment compared to lower RH environments.  As winter arrives the air gets cooler, so we turn on our furnace to make our classrooms and bedrooms more comfortable. In turn, the warm air sucks out the moisture resulting in lower RH and helping the influenza virus to survive longer.  By adding back a little moisture and increasing the RH, we can then reduce the lifespan of the influenza virus.

  • Cool Air – Higher RH – short influenza virus lifespan
  • Warm Air – Lower RH – longer influenza virus lifespan
  • Warm Air with a humidifier -Higher RH – short influenza virus lifespan

When the flu season kicks in this year, try increasing the RH in your school facilities to naturally fight the virus and you might just have a full class of students and staff.

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