Frequent hand washing, social distancing, and use of personal protective equipment (PPE) are proven tools in the fight against COVID-19, but what should we do about other infection vectors that aren’t sanitized as frequently?
If you’re looking to get creative in your fight against airborne viruses and bacteria, you might have considered ultraviolet light (UV-C) protection. In this post, we’ll discuss what UV-C light is, whether it can inactivate pathogens and superbugs, and how to evaluate claims made by UV-C light sanitizers.
What is UV-C Light?
UV-C light is a type of electromagnetic radiation that occurs naturally from sun rays and can be replicated on earth with the use of specialized bulbs.
The best way to think about electromagnetic radiation is to understand that it is a form of energy. Common examples that you may be familiar with are radio waves that transmit signals from radio station towers to your car stereo, the light that is emitted from the bulbs in your home, microwave rays used to heat food, and X-rays that capture internal images of your body. These are all forms of electromagnetic energy.
There are three types of UV radiation specifically – UV-A, UV-B, and UV-C, but it is UV-C light that has the capacity to inactivate viruses and bacteria and kill germs.
According to the FDA, UV-C radiation is a known disinfectant for air, water, and nonporous surfaces. UV-C radiation has effectively been used for decades to reduce the spread of bacteria, such as tuberculosis. For this reason, UV-C lamps are often called “germicidal” lamps.
How do UV Sanitizers Work?
UV-Sanitizers use UV-C rays to target the DNA and RNA structure of viruses and bacteria, resulting in a permanent change to the bases of this structure. Both DNA and RNA act as the code for bacteria to replicate; UV-C light alters these elements and prevents germs from infecting other host cells.
Only surfaces directly exposed to UV-C light can be sanitized. Parts of surfaces blocked by things like dust or bodily fluids may exhibit lower efficacy. However, UV-C light works on a number of everyday items, including cell phones, tablets, pagers, and jewelry.
Are UV Sanitizers Effective?
A study published in medical journal The Lancet found that UV light is able to reduce transmission of superbugs “significantly”, with the authors recommending it be added to standard cleaning strategies in hospital rooms. The researchers investigated four common superbugs found in hospitals — Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), vancomycin-resistant enterococci (VRE), C. difficile and Acinetobacter.
These bugs often cause prolonged hospital stays, intensive care, and lengthy recovery timelines, making it necessary to employ rigorous disinfection processes.
“Some of these germs can live in the environment so long that even after a patient with the organism has left the room and it has been cleaned, the next patient in the room could potentially be exposed,” said Dr. Deverick J. Anderson, MD, the lead investigator of the study.
Another study, published in the Journal of Virological Methods, demonstrated that UV-C light was effective in inactivating the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).
The CleanSlate UV sanitizer is also proven to inactivate 99.995% of SARS-CoV-2 on non-porous surfaces in a short 20-second UV-C cycle.
Hospital-grade UV sanitizers are backed by rigorous testing and independent third-party reviews. Talk about the effectiveness of UV light comes into play when we discuss personal UV sanitizers. These are typically on the low end of the market and don’t have powerful bulbs. Hence, they aren’t very effective against bacteria, fungi, and viruses and won’t deactivate pathogens with the same efficacy as industrial-grade sanitizers.
UV-C light can also be damaging to the human skin and must never come into direct contact with a human. Personal UV-C sanitizers carry that risk more than hospital-grade ones. The smaller bulbs also degrade faster, making them less effective. They actually cause more harm than good in the long term.
How to Evaluate a UV-C Sanitizer
A quick search online reveals hundreds of different UV-C sanitizer products, each with lofty claims of “killing the coronavirus,” “eliminating all bacteria”, or similar unproven suggestions.
It is important to understand that UV-C light sanitizers should not, under any circumstances, be used to sanitize your hands or other parts of your body. The WHO warns against this specifically, pointing out that this practice can cause significant harm to skin and eyes. This is also one of the reasons why devices like CleanSlate UV sanitizers undergo such rigorous safety and certification testing.
Do UV Sterilizers Work?
Furthermore, any device that claims to be a “sterilizer” can be safely disregarded as bogus. UV light cannot sterilize phones or other items because UV light does not remove biomatter.
The best way to evaluate UV sanitizers is to request third-party efficacy testing reports. For example, the CleanSlate UV is independently tested to be 99.995% effective against SARS-CoV-2 and 99.99995% effective against H1N1 (swine flu).
Health Canada also warns against UV-C sanitizers with false or misleading claims, saying that a “manufacturer must hold evidence to demonstrate that their product works as claimed”. In the absence of supporting evidence, it must be assumed that the product does not work as advertised. Many of the products you will find on Amazon or Alibaba do not have this supporting documentation. As such, these UV-C lamps and light wands are ineffective in the fight against bacteria and viruses.
Major Industries Using UV-C Light for Disinfection
The disinfection power of UV-C light was discovered more than 100 years ago and has been widely used to purify water, air, and other surfaces. However, it’s taken on a new meaning given greater public interest in sanitization and cleanliness.
U.S. airliner JetBlue installed UV-C sanitizers inside certain airplanes to reduce viruses and bacteria as part of its Safety from the Ground up initiative. Luxury hotel company Four Seasons has also started to trial the tech in partnership with Johns Hopkins University. Amazon built a UV-C light emitting robot to disinfect Whole Foods stores and warehouses. And Metrolinx, Ontario’s largest public transportation company, partnered with CleanSlate UV as part of its Safety Never Stops campaign, to allow passengers to safely sanitize all handheld devices while on the go.
Want to learn more about how UV-C solutions can help your facility re-open safely? Examine our tech.