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January 8, 2013, by Josh Gentry

Whooping Cough Is On The Rise And Engineers Can Help

I was going through my spam this morning, making sure some important emails didn't get thrown in with my "Male Enhancement" lies, and I found an email inviting me to learn how to design my buildings to prevent the spread of Whooping Cough. This sounded like and interesting webcast until I saw the $99 fee, and I decided to investigate this claim for myself. I went to the CDC and some other reputable news organizations and found titles like “Whooping Cough Makes a Comeback in 2012" and "2012: Worst Whooping Cough Year Since 1955", which only peaked my interest. Apparently vaccines are not working as effective as previously and Pertussis outbreaks have been rampant for our youth.  So as a Mechanical Engineer predominantly designing schools, I felt compelled to really take a look into this to help improve the health of my building.

Referring to building 101 I knew that there are three main things that are needed to protect the occupants of my building from biological warfare; Ventilation, Filtration, and Mitigation. When these three strategies are used in combination, the can significantly contain the spread of diseases through the air. Here are some tips I discovered:

  1. To impose proper ventilation make sure the building is ventilated in accordance with ASHRAE 62.1 standard. Design strategies such as dedicated outdoor air systems, or displacement ventilation can be implemented to keep contamination out of the occupied space in the building.
  2. Be smart about filtration of contaminants because in some buildings this can do more harm than good. If you provide a HEPA style filter on a re-circulation system there will be a price to pay in energy and materials. I don't think this is needed with proper ventilation; however, if demand controlled ventilation is used in your building it might be worth the pain.
  3. The final punch to this knockout is mediation through germicides. By providing space or air stream directed Ultraviolet Germicidal Irradiation (UVGI), the threat can really be reduced. But, like everything else, it comes at a cost of maintenance and energy.

I would love to put all of this in every building I design, but with the high cost of ownership it is hard to justify sometimes. However, by knowing the hazard is there and how it operates I do feel empowered to improve my designs from a biological angle. Now I just need to figure out how to harness a new form of energy production. I'm thinking that rooms full of hamsters running on wheels might work...