Using Humidity Awareness to Create a Smarter, More Comfortable Office during Cold, Flu and COVID-19 season
The viruses that cause colds, flu and COVID-19 will thrive this winter and spring partly because cooler temperatures cause us to be indoors more, then the indoor air gets drier as we turn on the heat to warm our offices and homes, and often our respiratory tracts become drier. (Van Oostdam)When the tissues lining the airways are dried out, we can catch viruses from others more easily, and our immune systems don’t fight them as well. Since the mucus in our airways normally acts as a barrier to filter out invaders like COVID-19, as well or remove debris. Thus, you’re more likely to get colds , COVID-19 and even the flu in very dry air.
The growth and transmission of influenza is best at 25-40% humidity.(Shaman, 2017 and 2018) while significantly more infections such as COVID occur, then spread when the relative humidity falls from 40% – 60% , to less than 30% humidity. (ashrea) Some studies show that dry air helps the flu last even longer than it would otherwise. Given that you’re more likely to experience dry air in wintertime (also flu season), humidity awareness is important. (Iwasaki, 2019). Hospitals, clinics, other healthcare spaces and schools recognize this fact and control humidity-why not LMT’s? This article will discuss how to make your office safer and more comfortable during the winter flu and COVID season. We can now explain how humidity affects all of us, and how to manage it easily and cheaply in your office. Keeping the right amount of air moisture in your home or office could mean the difference between you or your clients catching a bug this winter and remaining healthy.
“The seasonal cycle of respiratory viral diseases has been recognized for thousands of years, as annual epidemics of the common cold and influenza disease hit the human population like clockwork in the winter season. Studies have long shown the effect of temperature and humidity on viruses’ survival and transmission to others.” (Moriyama)
“When someone with COVID-19 coughs inside a room with dry air, virus particles stay in the air and remain on surfaces longer, and go deeper into the body, which increases the risk of contracting a virus and the severity of the infection.”-Engineer David Baird (Polygon )
First, how it works: during the winter, indoor heating with furnaces, electric heaters or woodstoves keep us warm, but often lead to air that is too dry. (less than 40% humidity). This air draws moisture from many parts of the body, can dry out our skin, eyes, hair and nails and make us feel dehydrated. A scratchy sore throat that lasts for days, sinus issues, bloody noses, itching or flaking skin, chapped lips, even a feeling of tightness around the joints can result. Conditions that you already have such as dry eye syndrome, asthma, eczema or acne can be worsened.
In addition, and more related to our main topic, the upper part of your respiratory system, including your throat and nose, is lined with moist membranes. These membranes serve to capture dirt, dust, viruses and bacteria before they reach your lungs. Deeper down, the fluid that hydrates your bronchial tubes can also quickly evaporate, making it easier for harmful particles to get into the sensitive areas of your lungs. Proper humidity levels normally help these membranes do their job preventing harmful particles from getting into the sensitive areas of your lungs. Cilia do not work as well in dry conditions either, making it more difficult for them to pass virus particles along. (Kudo 2019) More recent case reports from the COVID-19 pandemic’s early days in China and Seattle conclude the same thing: The virus stays stable longer and finds purchase on receptors in our airways better when the relative humidity sits at a wintry 20%.
Humidifiers range in size and type, with both cool mist and warm mist models available on the market. Some homes have whole-house humidifiers that are mounted on furnaces, while portable ones with water tanks come in various sizes. . Your home should sit somewhere between 30 and 50 % humidity. If it’s measuring below 30 percent, you may need to invest in a humidifier. 100% relative humidity means that the air is totally saturated with water vapor, Too high humidity often causes most people to say the air is muggy and uncomfortable, as they cannot sweat very well.
HOW DO HOSPITALS, SCHOOLS AND OTHER BUILDINGS MANAGE HUMIDITY?
In hospitals, humidity is carefully controlled, for overly dry air not only increases employee sick days, it slows patient recovery and encourages infection and further illness. Deviations from the mid-range of relative humidity of 40-60% can reduce air quality, causing an increased growth of bacteria, airborne infections, sore eyes, sore throats, increased static and dust, and other problems. (Shajahan) In schools, air is typically monitored for humidity, since poor indoor air quality within schools has long been identified as one of the leading causes of student and teacher illnesses. Experiments have shown more students get the flu in non-humidified classrooms, compared to those in humidified classrooms. (Koep, and Reiman) Many hospitals and schools use steam-based systems with central boilers that can boil water like using a giant tea kettle and circulate this water into ventilation systems,” says engineer David Baird. Other options include natural gas or a combination of humidity and cooling.(Polygon Group)
BODYWORK AND HUMIDITY
How do we apply this knowledge as bodyworkers?
Akiko Iwaski, PHD, an immunobiologist who researches how humidity is related to the spread of infections, recommends inhaling very moist air in the winter, by using long hot showers or baths, steam baths or local steam inhalations. (Iwasaki, 2019). Obviously this is not practical in most practices, but there is much we can do. A few simple steps are easy and practical:
FIRST STEP: Keep track of the moisture in the air with an inexpensive device called a hygrometer. You can buy one at your local hardware store, or online. (The ACURITE Humidity Monitor model 000613MB is one digital type that can be moved easily from place to place)
Keep it in your treatment room where you can see it easily.
The ideal relative humidity for health and comfort is somewhere between 40 and 50%. (Reiman, Shaman) If it’s over 50 %, you may need to use a dehumidifier — over time, excess moisture can promote lead to mold or mildew.
SECOND STEP: Introduce moisture if the air is too dry
1. Keep a fine-mist spray bottle of water handy and spray the air lightly every hour or so. Spritz the spray around any room that requires freshening, keeping the spray away from furniture to prevent stains. Don’t spray so much that furniture or countertop surfaces become wet; just a light spritz here and there will help raise the humidity level. Some people like to spray their curtains with water, once they have checked that the curtain material can tolerate it.
2. Keep houseplants in your waiting room or office and spray them with water from a fine-mist spray bottle. They will like it and release water into the air.
3. Buy a small fountain for your waiting room or treatment room. Many clients find the sound of running water soothing.
4. Buy and use a humidifier Some buildings have whole-house humidifiers that are mounted on furnaces, while portable ones with water tanks come in various sizes.
5. Use hydrotherapy treatments in your sessions. Clients love them, especially when it is cold outside! They have an added benefit, as easy carriers of essential oils, herbal mixtures, mineral salts and more.
This shows that air moisture is one important aspect of air quality and a comfortable, healthy office.. The majority of adverse health effects caused by relative humidity would be minimized by maintaining indoor between 40% and 60%. You and your clients will benefit!
**Use a slow cooker for warm towel treatments. Each time you open the lid to pull out a steamy prepared one, you are releasing moisture into the air. If you like to use essential oils, add a few drops to the water. Clients love warm towel treatments combined with bodywork, and heat makes tissues more pliable before hands-on work. Examples: warm towels draped over the sinus area, back massage performed through a hot towel, gentle neck traction, wrapping the feet, a warm neck roll, and more. As an experiment, I warmed my treatment room to 63F, then used 6 rolled handtowels during a session. I had prepared the towels” by putting them in the slow cooker and leaving them to steam for an hour before the client came. During the session, the hot moist towels were removed from the slow cooker and placed on the client, and then the lid was put back on, a total of 6 times. At the end of the session, the temperature was still 63F but the humidity had increased from 47% to 54%.
**Hand or footbaths warm and soothe clients, especially when they come in your office chilled. Wait until the end of the session to empty any containers of water used for hand or foot baths.( Be sure to place them out of the way to make sure they don’t get knocked or kicked over).
3. Iwasaki,, A., “Why is Flu More serious in the Winter?” Yale University Youtube video May 15, 2019
4. Koep TH, et al. Predictors of indoor absolute humidity and estimated effects on influenza virus survival in grade schools. BMC Infect Dis. 2013;13:71. pmid:23383620
5. Kudo, E., et al Low ambient humidity impairs barrier function and innate resistance against influenza infection. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, May 13, 2019. Breathing dry air decreases immune function
6. Noti, J., et al, High Humidity Leads to Loss of Infectious Influenza Virus from Simulated Coughs,. PLOS ONE, Feb 27, 2013
7. Reiman, J., et al, “Humidity as a non-pharmaceutical intervention for Influenza A”PLOS ONE September 25, 2018
8. Sajadi, Mohammad M., et al, Temperature, Humidity and Latitude Analysis to Predict Potential Spread and Seasonality for COVID-19 (March 5, 2020). Available at Shajahan, A., et al, A review of scientific research on hospital buildings
9. Shajahan, A., et al, Effects of indoor environmental parameters related to building heating, ventilation and ar conditioning systems on patients’ medical outcomes: A review of scientific research on hospital buildings. Indoor Air. 2019 Mar; 29(2): 161–176.
10. Oregon State University. “Link Found Between Influenza, Absolute Humidity.” ScienceDaily, 10 February 2009.<www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/02/090209205148.htm>.
11. Shaman J, Kandula S, Yang W, Karspeck A. The use of ambient humidity conditions to improve influenza forecast. PLOS Comput Biol 2017;13:e1005844. pmid:29145389
Influenza spread can be predicted accurately when humidity as well as temperature are taken into account
12. Shaman J, Pitzer VE, Viboud C, Grenfell BT, Lipsitch M. Absolute humidity and the seasonal onset of influenza in the continental United States. PLoS Biol. 2010
13. Van Oostdam, J., et al, “Effect of breathing dry air on structure and function of airways,” Journal of Applied Physiology, vol. 61, no. 1, pp. 312–317, 1986.
Thanks for the great article, Marybetts!
Thank you Jason!
I first learned about the indoor humidity/virus transmission problem because
a very smart man, Dr. Jefferey Shaman, was a graduate student at Oregon State University
here in Corvallis, and he gave a talk for the community, called “Absolute Humidity and Influenza”
He is now known as “The Flu Forecaster” and his laboratory works on transmission of
flu and COVID.
Here is the link to his talk:
Best health to all,
Marybetts Sinclair, LMT