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This Air Filter Is Designed to Catch—and Kill—Coronavirus

air filter

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Key Takeaways

  • Researchers from Texas have developed an air filter that kills the novel coronavirus instantly using heat.
  • The filter can only destroy aerosol particles, which means hand washing and masks are still necessary to protect against respiratory droplets.
  • Commercial rollout of the filter will prioritize large high-risk areas, but desktop versions will also be developed for small spaces.

To an extent, protecting against COVID-19 relies on understanding how it's spread. Safety practices like social distancing and mask-wearing can protect against the large respiratory droplets released when an infected person coughs or sneezes—which is the main driver of transmission, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). However, if the virus is airborne, like the World Health Organization (WHO) is currently trying to determine, we need to do more to protect against finer particles that may remain in the air.

A new air filter is designed to do exactly that.

Researchers from Texas have successfully developed an air filter capable of killing airborne SAS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. A collaboration between researchers from Texas Center for Superconductivity at the University of Houston, The University of Houston College of Medicine, and Medistar Corporation led to the development of this unique product.

The researchers reported that in a single pass, the filter was able to kill 99.8% of SARS-CoV-2. It also successfully killed 99.9% of anthrax spores, suggesting the filter may be effective against other viruses and bacteria.

News of this research was released by the University of Houston on July 14. Full results were published in the journal Materials Today Physics.

Why This Matters

According to Harvard Health, COVID-19 particles can remain in the air for up to three hours. This new air filter can help trap and kill airborne coronavirus particles in air-conditioned environments, which may slow the spread of COVID-19.

How It Works

One of the best ways to kill viruses is through heat. With the knowledge that viruses can’t survive beyond 70° C (158° F), the team designed their air filter to reach a far higher temperature of about 200° C (392° F), which kills viruses instantly.

In order to facilitate such high temperatures, the team used nickel foam to create the filter, which offers the added benefits of being flexible and conducting electricity efficiently.

Where Can It Be Used?

In theory, this air filter can be used anywhere. But Medistar is prioritizing public hotspots in its early rollout period. Places such as schools, airports, and mass transit centers will have access to this filter before residential homes.

The company is also planning to develop smaller versions that can purify the air in a person’s immediate surroundings.

“There are going to be smaller units which will be used as a desktop or travel units,” Faisal Cheema, MD, director of research at HCA Healthcare and associate professor at the University of Houston College of Medicine, tells Verywell. “When used within personal spaces, this family of products will not only lead to the abolishing of coronavirus, but will also help address other airborne bio-pathogens and allergens,” Cheema says.

Faisal Cheema, MD

This air filter will add another layer of protection in addition to all the current standard precautionary measures which have been recommended by the CDC.

— Faisal Cheema, MD

Is This a Replacement for Other Safety Guidelines?

The short answer is no. Most of the existing safety guidelines put forth by the CDC are aimed at preventing COVID-19 transmission through direct contact and large respiratory droplets (released when you cough or sneeze). This air filter, by contrast, has only one goal: to kill and remove lighter aerosols released from regular activities such as talking and breathing.

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Article Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for triage of suspected COVID-19 patients in non-US healthcare settings: Early identification and prevention of transmission during triage. Updated May 28, 2020.

  2. World Health Organization. COVID-19 virtual press conference. July 7, 2020.

  3. Yu L, Peel GK, Cheema WS, et al. Catching and killing of airborne SARS-CoV-2 to control spread of COVID-19 by a heated air disinfection system. Mater Today Phys. 2020;15. doi:10.1016/j.mtphys.2020.100249

  4. Harvard Health Publishing. Coronavirus resource center. Updated July 22, 2020.