No medical proof that portable air purifiers can fight Covid-19, experts say

01 Mar 2022 06:36pm
View of a Coronavirus Covid-19 background - 3d rendering
View of a Coronavirus Covid-19 background - 3d rendering

Portable air purifiers, especially those worn around the neck, have been a major influence to many people out there as they believe that wearing them can prevent the transmission of Covid-19.

On platforms like Lazada and Shopee, sellers offer the items with prices as low as RM15 to buyers online. However, how effective are the mobile air purifiers actually to combat Covid-19 and its variant?

A certified IAQ (Indoor Air Quality) assessor from the Department of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH), Nur Shahidah Nazri had a few things to say as we got to the bottom of the issue regarding the effectiveness of the mobile air purifiers.

Shahidah stated that it is ineffective against Covid-19 under the principle that the air purifier is a kind of ionizer, which is tested with the type of virus that can be artificially created in the lab for research purposes.

Not only that, she mentioned that most of the mobile air purifiers do not use the specific pump needed to ensure that the air purification is done at its full capacity and there is the lack of research regarding the matter.

“The mobile air purifiers uses the ionizer concept, which means that the device does not have the specific pump needed to trap the tiny and fine articles in the air.

“The lack of scientific study about this air purifier itself should make the people doubt its effectiveness,” she told Sinar Daily in an interview.

A study by scientists in China and California tested the effectiveness of 4 wearable ionizer air purifiers, and they measured how well each portable air purifier removes tiny particles from air.

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The result is 3 out of 4 tested removed less than 10% of particles 20cm (0.1ft) away from it, which is not that great and far lower than the 95% virus-protection we get from wearing a mask.

When asked if this means that wearing a mask is proven to be more effective than the mobile air purifiers, Shahidah explained that this is where the lack of scientific study can be seen as she said that there is a limited amount of research done regarding the specific devices.

She said that we cannot remove masks from the control measure because the virus is airborne and one of the ways we can avoid the particles is by wearing a mask.

“Of course we cannot wear masks all the time. There are times we need to take them off such as while we are eating,” she said.

What is surprising is that mobile air purifiers can actually be harmful to the body as she shared about a study conducted in Malaysia where ozone and uncomfortable odor released from the device has been detected.

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), they stated that ozone-related products can cause coughing, sore throat and respiratory problems.

She also said that long term exposure to ozone will cause asthma and the elevated concentration of ozone can even cause death due to the respiratory problems caused.

It is also important to note that wearing the portable air purifiers around the neck can make pollution stick to our face and clothes because as the principle of the mobile air purifier is ionization, ions will actively absorb and gather suspended airborne particles into larger and heavier particles and then it will become dust that falls on the ground or surface.

Photo source: Instagarm (@annecurtissmith)
Photo source: Instagarm (@annecurtissmith)

Shaidah voiced out that public awareness should be increased to give the public the right information about Covid-19, Omicron and the effective control measure so there is a reduction to Covid-19 transmission without people carelessly buying the overclaimed products.

She recommended people to be informed of its mechanism or the principle of the product before making any purchase and ask the expert about the claims of the seller so that they will not fall prey to the marketing gimmicks that are not proven by accurate scientific study.

“How will Malaysia move forward if we continue to be lax about the sales of ‘so-called’ mobile air purifiers that are harmful to humans?

“We need to put an end to the sales of these misleading products before more and more consumers get duped into buying them in the name of ‘health’,” she added.

Public health expert, Dr Helmy Haja Mydin agreed that there is no strong medical evidence to suggest that wearing portable air purifiers can help prevent Covid-19.

“Many of us are understandably concerned about the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, and thus are taking as much precaution as possible.

“However, the best preventive measures remain public health interventions such as wearing a mask and getting both the vaccine and the booster where appropriate,” he said.