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Updated 08 July 2013

Can aircon make you sick?

Does the air conditioner in a office make one sick? Flu? Colds? Sinus conditions?

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READER QUESTION:
Does the air conditioner in a office make one sick? Flu? Colds? Sinus conditions?

EXPERT'S REPLY:
Yes, it can in some cases, but it's hard to prove. People in offices with air-con report more symptoms than those in offices with natural ventilation. Symptoms are varied – anything from headaches to respiratory-tract problems (including worsened sinus), but are seldom linked to a specific cause. In addition to poorly-maintained aircon systems, chemicals that form part of indoor air pollution may also trigger symptoms.

Dirty aircon systems can harbour organic contaminants like certain bacteria and mold spores, and these can cause respiratory tract irritation and illness in susceptible people. So have your ventilation system professionally checked at regular intervals.

It's possible for infectious diseases like colds and flu to be spread by air conditioning units, but it's probably rare. You're more likely to catch a cold by touching a contaminated surface and then touching your face. Simply working in an office means you'll come into contact with a lot of people and a lot more germs than at home. (Scold anyone who drags themselves to work when they’re sick!)

Conscientious hand-washing, especially before eating and after going to the bathroom, is the single most effective act to reduce the spread of infectious disease.

The temperature the aircon is set at won't make you sick - though it can certainly raise stress levels if it's at a temperature you find uncomfortable.

- Olivia Rose-Innes, EnviroHealth Editor, Health24, June 2012

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(Picture: woman adjusting aircon from Shutterstock)

 
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