Research shows propylene glycol vapor kills airborne influenza virus

Propylene glycol is a primary ingredient of FDA-approved e-liquids, but even before it was used in electronic cigarettes, scientists have been testing its many remarkable health benefits for decades.  In fact, many pharmaceutical companies and manufacturers of medical supplies like asthma nebulizers have even been including this compound in many of their products based on research dating back to the 1940s.

According to three studies conducted at the University of Chicago's Billings Hospital, scientists confirmed that the vapor created from this liquid solution kills many forms of airborne bacteria, including pneumococci, streptococci, and staphylococci.  Led by Dr. O.H. Robertson, the research team came to the additional conclusions that the antibacterial properties of propylene glycol (PG) vapor makes it a safe and effective preventative against blood stream infections, asthma attacks, and common respiratory diseases like pneumonia and strep throat.  It even acts as an air germicide by killing some airborne viruses, like the one that causes influenza.

The Black Plague, propylene glycol, and the influenza virus

Apparently, Dr. Robertson was inspired by a colleague - Dr. Theodore Puck – who was a self-proclaimed history buff since his early youth with an endless fascination with medieval Europe. Of particular interest to young Puck was the historical significance of the Black Plague of the mid-thirteenth century. 

Puck often wondered - as a child and throughout his medical school training - precisely what had eventually caused the Black Plaque to stop spreading.  Also known as the Bubonic Plague, historians believe that the highly contagious disorder first appeared rather suddenly in 1347 when twelve ships landed in Europe after traveling through the Black Sea. Rats from the ships are still believed to be the original carriers.

Over the next four years, the Black Plaque would kill an estimated 75-200 million people.  By the end of 1351, it seemingly disappeared almost overnight.  But why?

Puck hypothesized that it was only after the townsfolk started burning nearly everything in sight that the crisis would come to an end.  Therefore, there must have been some unknown component within the ashen air itself that killed the Bubonic virus in its tracks.  But what was it?

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Determined to find the answer, the scientific team of Robertson and Puck began a series of experiments where they “vaporized” several chemical compounds to determine their possible effects on airborne microorganisms.  That’s when they eventually stumbled upon vaporized PG. In their research paper entitled, The Bactericidal Action of Propylene Glycol Vapor on Microorganisms Suspended in air (NCBI), the researchers state the following.

“A study of the conditions which affect the bactericidal action of propylene glycol vapor on air-suspended microorganisms has been carried out. The killing process was found to be more effective when both the total number of air-borne droplets and the number of organisms in the bacterial suspension are small. A temperature below 80°F. and an atmospheric relative humidity between 45 and 70 per cent were found to constitute the most favorable conditions for the lethal action of the vapor. Experiments were performed to test the bactericidal efficiency of propylene glycol vapor in both small and large enclosed spaces....

"Concentrations of not less than 1 gm. of propylene glycol in three or four million cc. of air resulted in immediate and complete sterilization of the chamber air. This effect was demonstrated with staphylococci, pneumococci, hemolytic streptococci, H. influemae, and H. pertussis;;;

Propylene glycol vapor was also found to exert a lethal or at least an inactivating effect on the virus of influenza. This was determined by tests in which the presence of the glycol vapor in concentration of 1:3,000,000 was shown to protect mice completely against infection with amounts of air-borne influenza virus that produced death regularly in the control animals."

As the world continues to debate the health advantages of vaping, it’s becoming increasingly clear that politicians and lawmakers need to focus more attention on the underlying scientific research and less on the touchy-feely issues surrounding teen usage.  To be clear, the Robertson/Puck experiments did not involve the inhaling of propylene glycol vapor, but their research should not be entirely discounted either.  Science – not politics or financial political contributions by Big Pharma and Big Tobacco – should be the only basis for which lawmakers make legislative decisions that directly affect the American vaping community. 

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