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Following the surge in demand for ultraviolet (UV) disinfection equipment during the pandemic, the International Ultraviolet Association discusses the rise of commercial UVC products and the need to establish clear industry standards.

With the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, good hygiene practices have become a prerequisite in our everyday routines. The increasing demand for products which promise efficiency in destroying harmful bacteria and viruses have, in turn, opened up opportunities for the wider adoption of UVC disinfection technologies. When used correctly, specific wavelengths of ultraviolet (UV) radiation (between 200-280 nanometres) known as UVC, has proven to be effective in destroying coronavirus pathogens and therefore helping to reduce the risk of transmission, particularly in healthcare settings. In addition to their use in the healthcare sector, UVC disinfection applications have also started to infiltrate the commercial market with products including disinfection cabinets, self-cleaning water bottles and room air disinfection devices becoming more and more common in domestic domains.

Although the use of UVC applications for disinfection purposes can be traced as far back as the 1930s, the technology remains relatively new and establishing standards and regulations that can fully protect users’ safety and ensure applications are being used correctly is still an ongoing process. Part of the International Ultraviolet Association’s (IUVA) mission is to promote the adoption of rational, environmental regulations that will make it easier for the public to be informed about the uses of UVC technology.

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Can you explain how UVC disinfection technologies work? What key advantages do they offer in comparison to other common disinfection methods used within healthcare settings?

UVC disinfection technologies work by emitting an invisible UVC radiation (i.e. not part of the visible light spectrum) that disrupts a pathogen’s DNA and RNA so it cannot reproduce and grow. Since the effectiveness of the UVC is dependent on direct access to the pathogen, the pathogen must be fully exposed and not covered over or in the shadow of  dust and other contaminates. Hospitals often incorporate UVC into the normal room cleaning regimen before moving a new patient into a previously occupied room, referred to as a ‘terminal cleaning.’ This ensures the area has been wiped down before the UVC light is applied, maximising the UVC’s effectiveness. As a result of COVID-19, UVC disinfection is being increasingly used in public facilities such as airports, warehouses, reception rooms, healthcare clinics, clinical hallways and nursing homes. There is some time investment in prevention, but essentially, it is all about reducing the risk and potential impact to the patient, the healthcare system and the economy.

In terms of the advantages that UVC disinfection offers over conventional cleaning methods, firstly, there is no chemical residue left after treatment and thus no production of superbugs. Likewise, the UVC devices tend to be easy to operate and may be cheaper in comparison to long term use of chemical disinfectants when all life-cycle costs are included. The drawbacks of using UVC to clean means regular cleaning methods must still be in place to reduce dirt, dust and other soiling contaminants that might shield the pathogen from getting the necessary UVC dose. Additionally, to be effective, the UVC device needs to ‘light up’ (irradiate) the pathogen with enough ‘dose’ to break-up the DNA. How much is required varies with each pathogen (e.g., C-diff, MRSA, or SARS-CoV-2) and with each different wavelength of UVC delivered (e.g., 254nm, 265nm, or 222nm). Getting that mix right is sometimes a challenge.

What impact has COVID-19 had on the industry? How has the market for UV technology changed?

The pandemic has had a dramatic impact on the demand for existing UVC products. New UVC products have also been introduced to capitalise on the demand for disinfection technologies. The UVC industry has really tried to move with the science and companies are eager to bring out new products. When COVID-19 – which is caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus – began, it was unclear what the infection pathway was – if it spread through the air, surfaces or through water. Most of the UVC machines at that time were focused on surface disinfection, and in particular, high-touch areas. As such, the UVC industry was all about marketing their surface disinfection devices, which include robots that move around shining lights on tables, chairs, beds, and walls, and UVC cabinets used to disinfect equipment and smaller items. As the science came to understand it was really an airborne pathogen, emphasis started to change in favour of upper air UVC treatment applications.

Perhaps the biggest change is that the traditional healthcare market (hospitals, clinics, etc.) has opened into a greatly expanded public consumer market. UVC technologies are now moving beyond the healthcare space with the consumer products representing one of the fastest growing areas. UVC-based applications such as wands are being marketed as robust cleaning products for household surfaces, however these must be approached with caution. Any UVC can cause minor damage to human skin and eye tissue. This is something akin to temporary sunburn or mild cornea burn, which heals in two to three days, but it is not pleasant. Longer wavelengths of UV (e.g. UVA and UVB, between 280nm-400nm) can cause major sunburn/cornea injuries and increase the risk of various types of cancers. Therefore, people should avoid being directly exposed to UV, regardless of type.

Alternative wavelengths which may be safer, such as UV 222 nm, are currently being researched and could eventually be used in applications placed on ceilings which would continually disinfect the surrounding air.

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Post time: Jan-18-2022