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Is Low Indoor Humidity A Driver For Healthcare-Associated Infections?

Updated: Oct 25, 2023

Research Reveals Game Changing Strategies to Reduce Healthcare–Associated Infections (HAI’s)

Close up of air borne virus particle

Beginning in 2014, I participated in a ground-breaking research project[1] to examine the impact of the indoor environment on infection control in hospitals. The results of this research were startling and transformed my understanding of how powerful the air environment is on human health. Historically, the building management industry and IAQ standards legislative bodies have not used medical data to define optimal indoor air quality, nor to manage the indoor environment. This eye-opening research became the inspiration behind the founding of Building4Health in 2020, a data and analytics company dedicated to developing indoor air quality solutions to improve occupant health across health care and other indoor environments.

Challenge of Healthcare Associated Infections (HAI’s)

Each year in the US and worldwide, healthcare-associated infections (HAIs) kill more people than automobile accidents (Reed and Kemmerly, 2009; Anderson, 2013). Our initial hypothesis was that the indoor environment played a role in the transmission of pathogens that caused HAIs, but exactly how was unclear to us. After analyzing data from over eight million environmental measurements and over 400 patient records, the role of low indoor humidity in promoting infections became undeniable. Our new data demonstrated a clear association between microbial sharing of occupants, patient HAIs, and indoor building conditions. Of all the environmental parameters, we found that indoor relative humidity (RH) below 40% is the most significant driver of HAIs.

Our Low humidity research was presented at the 2016 International Society of Indoor Air Quality and Climate (ISIAQ) and subsequently published in the ISIAC Proceedings. Notably, the conference director stated that our findings were the most important advancement in revealing how IAQ impacts health that he had seen in his ten year history of running the event.

IAQ Prevention Strategies to Reduce Infection Risk.

Our research suggested that maintaining the indoor RH between 40 to 60 percent may be an effective and cost-efficient tool to decrease the airborne spread of infectious microorganisms causing HAIs, improve patient outcomes, and decrease patient length of stay. These findings give hospital engineers and facility managers additional data to guide their building management to improve IAQ conditions for patient healing and for supporting the health of all occupants. Creating and supporting investment in IAQ measurement and solution systems such as Building4Health (B4H) to track humidity, temperature and other key air metrics can be a game changer to improve public health globally.


Research Source: Is Low Indoor Humidity A Driver For Healthcare-Associated Infections International Society of Indoor Air Quality and Climate,, July 2016, Stephanie Taylor, MD, M Arch, CIC, FRSPH(UK), CABE1*, Walter Hugentobler, MD.


1 Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts, United States

2 Institut für Hausarztmedizin, Universität und Universitätsspital Zürich, Switzerland

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