Peggy Lai, MD, MPH

Peggy Lai, MD, MPH

Massachusetts General Hospital

Research Project:
HEPA Cleaner Intervention to Reduce Respiratory Virus Exposure in Schools

Grant Awarded:

  • COVID-19 Respiratory Virus Research Award

Research Topic:

  • public health

Research Disease:

  • COVID-19

School closures have been implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic to reduce disease transmission resulting in enormous economic, psychosocial, and educational costs. Guidelines have been proposed for safer school reopening, but many controversial recommendations involve changing individual behaviors such as masking, vaccination and social distancing. Pandemic fatigue has decreased adherence to these recommended protective behaviors. Instead, environmental interventions like portable high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) cleaners do not rely on individual behavior and can potentially reduce airborne respiratory virus exposure. However, it is unknown whether HEPA cleaners work in a real-world school setting. We will explore a recently completed large study of HEPA cleaners in elementary schools to ask the question, "What influences respiratory virus exposure in elementary schools? Do HEPA cleaners in elementary school classrooms decrease respiratory virus exposure and infections in asthmatic children? 

We have performed nucleic acid extraction of classroom air and student nasal samples collected from the School Inner-City Asthma Intervention, a randomized controlled trial of high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) cleaners in 41 elementary schools, and are currently testing for respiratory viruses. To date, tested air filters have a median 5 (3 - 7) respiratory viruses per classroom and we have detected important pathogens such as influenza H3N2 and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). For the coming year, we will complete testing and perform statistical analyses to determine the efficacy of the HEPA intervention on classroom respiratory virus exposure and student infections.

Page last updated: June 7, 2024

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