Will Air Conditioners Make You Sick?

Our team hates rumors. Miracle diets, wonder foods and supposed health cures bug us. We know that a healthy lifestyle with good habits, nutrition and real medical advice can give all of us our best lives. We also hate fearmongering that takes a little information, or even just a rumor, and blows it up into something scary. So, when we saw posts saying that air conditioning units were spreading COVID-19, we immediately started reading more about it to separate fact from fiction.

The rumor started, as most do, with real information. A restaurant in China saw people at different tables become ill with COVID-19 despite not being related or sitting together. COVID-19 can be airborne. “Strong airflow from the air conditioner could have propagated droplets from table C to table A, then to table B, and then back to table C,” said the Guangzhou Center for Disease Control and Prevention. “To prevent the spread of the virus in restaurants, we recommend increasing the distance between tables and improving ventilation.”

The thing to take away from that is that the organization didn’t say to stop using air conditioning but to improve airflow. The same air was repeatedly circulating. For many parts of America, the hot weather has arrived, for the rest of us, it’s on its way. Experts say that we shouldn’t avoid air conditioning but, instead, use it to draw new air into our homes. This one incident shouldn’t turn you off from cooling your home, it should make you increase the airflow.

Unfortunately, that can run up your electricity bill. Cooling hot outdoor air is more expensive than re-cooling air circulating in your home that has been through the unit before. In San Diego, we’re using fans in windows to pull in new air. But our weather is heating up. We’re going to have to turn on our air conditioners and switch to the less green and more expensive settings to drawing in new air continually.

The CDC recommends improved airflow to protect caregivers and anyone who might be at home with someone who is ill. “Make sure that shared spaces in the home have good airflow, such as by an air conditioner or an opened window, weather permitting.” It can keep the virus from making others ill while hanging in the air. In 2009, the World Health Organization said that poor ventilation was associated with higher infection rates for an illness that stairs in the air.

A study in 2019 found that natural ventilation, like a window, cut the spread of tuberculosis by 72 percent. “Changing the room air is a widely used measure for infection prevention and control,” said Prof. Stephen Morse, an infectious disease researcher at Columbia Univ.’s Mailman School of Public Health. “It replaces any virus-contaminated air with clean air.”

You might worry that, if no one in your home is ill, you could have the virus blow in from outdoors. The likelihood of that happening is negligible. And, someone in your home may be infected and not showing symptoms. If you live at ground level, in a place with many pedestrians, there is a slight possibility of the virus blowing inside. But, if you live away from a main road, you’re fine. And, any apartments on the second floor or higher would be safe to have a wide-open window.

Finally, letting new air into your home can boost your health in other ways. CO2 can build up inside your home, causing drowsiness and poor concentration. Having new air can improve every aspect of your life. So, ignore the internet rumor: open your windows, or turn on your AC, and get some fresh air in!

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