Monitoring and documenting air quality, especially in hospitals, pharmaceutical, cosmetics, and food industries environments is very important. Contamination of these environments can originate from nearby or far away sewage plants, landfill sites, and waste separation plants. Therefore, monitoring on a regular basis of air quality in operating rooms, production lines, and other controlled areas is critical.
To assess the level of microbial contamination in the air, air is sampled for analysis by direct microscopy (sometimes referred to as nonviable analyses) or by culture analysis. For direct microscopy, the air is sampled using various cassettes including Air O Cell, Allergenco, Millipore filters and others. The samples are examined at between 600 and 900X magnification. Fungal spores and mycelial/hyphal fragments are enumerated. Millipore filters are first cleared using acetone and fixed with triacetine and then analysed in a similar manner as the Air-O-Cell or Allergenco samples. The filters have a major advantage over the other spore traps in that, having a large surface area, they can be used in highly contaminated environments, where other spore traps would easily be overloaded with dust thus rendering them difficult to analyse.
Direct microscopic analysis of air samples allows determination of total spore counts regardless of whether the spores were dead or alive. In hospital environments both dead and living spores are of concern because even if the spores were dead, they could be as toxigenic or allergenic just like living spores.
To sample air for culture analysis requires the air to be impacted on suitable agar media. Commonly used types of samplers are the Reuter Centrifugal Sampler (RCS) and the Andersen samplers. However there are many other samplers. The air is impacted on media such as MEA and DG18. Culturable air samples are incubated for 3-5 days and the resulting colonies counted. The colonies are then transferred onto suitable agar media for identification. In general, number of fungal propagules determined by cultural method is far much smaller (1-50% of total counts in some cases) than the total number of spores and fungal propagules determined by direct microscopic examination.
To assesss air for bacterial contamination, a general purpose media such as Tryptic Soy Agar (TSA) can be used. However, if sampling for a specific type of bacterium such as Legionella spp, then a selective media such as Buffered Charcoal Yeast Extract (BCYE) Agar is recommended.