The most frightening thing about a pandemic is its ability to spread invisibly and silently. Because pathogens cannot be seen by the naked eye, they cannot easily be tracked or brought under control. They simply spread by way of airborne droplets, which can be breathed in by unsuspecting people.

While their sheer insidiousness makes diseases difficult to manage, there are steps you can take to make sure your home is still protected. Utilizing what we do know about bacterial, viral, and fungal diseases and how they are spread, we can now take steps to combat these potentially deadly infections.

How Diseases Are Spread

Respiratory diseases such as COVID-19, influenza, and many others, are spread by person-to-person contact. COVID-19, for example, is caused by a novel coronavirus, which takes hold and spreads within the lungs and respiratory system of infected persons. When a person carrying the disease coughs, sneezes, or even just talks, they expel aerosolized particles that contain the virus. When these are breathed in by other people, those people can become infected as well.

Simply coming into contact with viruses and bacteria won’t necessarily cause you to become sick. Virus load is a major factor in the spread of disease. That means you’re more likely to become infected if you breathe in more infected particles.

Diseases can also be caused by other vectors. Dust particles, for example, can have harmful viruses, bacteria, and mold spores resting on them. The more dust that accumulates in your home, the more likely it is that the occupants will become sick.

To put it in simpler terms: the cleaner the air is, the less likely it is to spread disease, even if someone else in the home gets sick.

Your HVAC System: The First Line of Defense

The air in your home is circulated from room to room by your HVAC—heating, ventilation, and air conditioning—system. There are a number of different methods utilized by modern HVAC systems to accomplish this, but it’s most commonly done by a blower motor pushing heated or cooled air through an elaborate system of ductwork.

As air passes through your ductwork, it can become contaminated, carrying mold spores, dust particles, and other vectors for infectious disease. Indeed, disease tends to be transmitted much more easily inside than outside: this is because infectious air outside will dissipate fairly quickly, as opposed to indoors, where it can stagnate and render certain areas infectious for longer periods of time. Even if the outside air is quite clean—Oregon air quality, for example, is famously excellent—the indoor air can easily become an agent for the spread of illness.

Because of this, adequate ventilation is the first line of defense against airborne pathogens being spread indoors. This means that you must have a good quality HVAC system and keep it in good working order. Regular HVAC maintenance, cleanings, and inspections by a reputable company such as Entek are critical to maintaining the health of a building’s occupants.

How To Stop Diseases in Their Tracks

The American Society of Heating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) has addressed the COVID-19 pandemic as it relates to Oregon air quality, as well as the air quality in homes across the country. ASHRAE is an organization founded and run by HVAC professionals, and they have recognized that poor ventilation contributes to the risk of the spread of the coronavirus and other respiratory diseases. They have even offered the World Health Organization (WHO) their expertise on the topic of disease management and prevention.

ASHRAE has determined that the heating, ventilation, and cooling of a building has a direct effect on human health, particularly as it relates to the spread of disease. First, a home with poor temperature regulation already has a detrimental effect on the health of the occupants. That is, a home that’s regularly too hot or too cold will compromise the immune systems of the people living there. This will have a negative effect on the body’s natural ability to fight off diseases.

As many diseases, including the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19, travel on airborne particles, the ability of the HVAC system to filter the air also has a dramatic impact on the health of a building’s occupants. Over time, the filters in a building’s ductwork will become blocked by dust and dirt, hampering their ability to keep the air clean and free of pathogens. Having an HVAC professional regularly clean or replace the filters will minimize the spread of diseases borne on particulate matter.

Role of Modern Technology

Modern HVAC systems also make use of technology that may help to mitigate the spread of diseases like COVID-19 by destroying bacteria and viruses. One of the most revolutionary is the advent of UVGI air filters. These make use of ultraviolet light—known to destroy bacteria, viruses, and other pathogens—which is built into the filters themselves. In this manner, any particulate matter not immediately caught up by the air filters will be thoroughly sterilized, rendering the air clean and healthy. Notably, this is done without the use of any potentially dangerous or unpleasant chemicals, making it one of the safest ways of protecting a building from disease-causing vectors.

The filters themselves also make use of the latest in advanced technology: HEPA filters—short for high-efficiency particulate air filters—trap 99.7 percent of particles that are three microns and larger. While viruses are smaller than this, they do not travel through the air on their own; they are always bonded to larger particles, such as droplets or specks of dust. As a result, HEPA filters are excellent at removing potentially disease-carrying materials from the air. When combined with ultraviolet light, they can render the air in a building cleaner and safer than ever before.