Will Air Ionization Be Our Secret Weapon Against Respiratory Viruses?

F. Perry Wilson, MD MSCE
4 min readNov 28, 2023

A new study has some dramatic results.

When it comes to the public health fight against respiratory viruses — COVID — Flu — RSV and so on, it has always struck me as strange how staunchly basically any intervention is opposed. Masking was of course the prototypical entrenched warfare of opposing ideologies, with advocates pointing to studies suggesting the efficacy of masking to prevent transmission and advocating for broad masking recommendations, and detractors citing studies that suggested masks were ineffective and characterizing masking policies as fascist overreach. I’ll admit I was always perplexed by this a bit — as that particular intervention seemed so benign — a bit annoying I guess — but not crazy.

But I have come to appreciate what I call status quo bias — which is the tendency to reject any policy, advice, or intervention that would force you, as an individual, to change your usual behavior. We just don’t like to do that. It has made me think that the most successful public health interventions might be the ones that take the individual out of the loop — and air quality control seems an ideal fit here. Here is a potential intervention where you, the individual, have to do precisely nothing. The status quo is preserved. We just, you know, have cleaner indoor air.

But even the suggestion of air treatment systems as a bulwark against respiratory virus transmission has been met with — not just skepticism — but cynicism — perhaps even defeatism.

It seems there are those out there who think there really is nothing we can do. Sickness is interpreted in a Calvinistic framework — you become ill because it is your pre-destiny.

But maybe air treatment could actually work. It seems like it might, if a new paper from PLOS One is to be believed.

What we’re talking about is this study — a highly controlled laboratory-based analysis of a bipolar ionization system which seems to rapidly reduce viral counts in the air.

--

--

F. Perry Wilson, MD MSCE

Medicine, science, statistics. Associate Professor of Medicine and Public Health at Yale. New book “How Medicine Works and When it Doesn’t” available now.