Hospitals, clinics, ambulatory surgery centers, veterans homes, and nursing homes are breeding grounds for bacteria, viruses, or other microorganisms that can cause disease. Patients and residents utilize these healthcare facilities with immunocompromised susceptibility to infections. Any successful and complete EVS plan needs to address their proper cleanliness while addressing the possibility that they are also home to many healthcare-acquired infections (HAIs). In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), at any point in time, about one in 31 hospital patients has at least one HAI. Studies have found that there was an estimated 687,000 HAIs in U.S. acute care hospitals and 72,000 HAI-associated deaths.
Many of these healthcare facilities have begun using ultraviolet (UV) light disinfection as part of their EVS plans. Currently, the germicidal benefits of both sunlight and artificial UV light are back in the discussion as potential weapons against the coronavirus as well as many other pathogens that can cause infections. While UV light offers a hands-free, fast method to kill pathogens on surfaces, it also results in disinfection gaps that leave dangerous germs behind that can still infect patients and residents. UV light cannot claim a consistent and effective kill rate and so leaves dangerous pathogens behind. Some experts state it can only achieve a rudimentary kill rate that puts it well below the necessary threshold for a true whole room EVS system.
In theory, UV light attacks the DNA and RNA of pathogens at the molecular level. Given appropriate levels of exposure, UV-C light can inactivate viruses and render them harmless to humans. According to a recent study published by the National Institute of Health, UV light may even be used to reduce ambient levels of airborne coronaviruses in occupied public locations. Since UV light systems can fail to eliminate pathogens, why are they so widely used today? UV light disinfection products are not required to be approved by the EPA since the approval process is only mandatory for formulated chemical disinfectant substances. Consequently, the EPA Established Numbers on labels of UV light devices are often misinterpreted as EPA Registration Numbers. This leads to a great amount of uncertainty surrounding the efficacy, or lack thereof.
- Pathogens can survive UV light in shadowed areas
Operating rooms and examination rooms often contain equipment which can in turn create a maze of visual nooks and crannies where pathogens may lurk. While some of these shielded areas, like the underside of bedrails UV light fails to reach these areas since they use light waves in a “line of sight” fashion. Missing these shadowed areas can result in a sub-par disinfection. UV light disinfection often has to be performed many times from different positions in the same space which tends to decrease the use of UV light cost effectiveness.
- Effectiveness weakens when distance between light and surface increases
For UV light to be effective against pathogens, it needs to be delivered at the correct intensity and frequency. Not only do pathogens need to be in the direct line of sight to be eradicated from a UV light system, they also need to be close to the light source. The intensity of UV light decreases as the distance increases. For instance, a surface at four feet receives only 1/4 the intensity of a surface at two feet, and a surface at eight feet only receives 1/16 the intensity as that surface at two feet. UV light will only have 1/4 of its original disinfection power. The distance limits UV light’s efficacy as it becomes too weak to provide adequate disinfection at greater lengths.
- UV light bulbs disinfection and intensity diminish with age
UV light bulbs tend to have lifespans that can last over 12 months or 9,000 hours. Within that time period the intensity can drop to about 85% of new bulbs. Other factors like overheating, dirt, and dust on bulbs can also add to the decay of a bulb’s lifespan and reduce its effectiveness. Replacement of these bulbs is not expensive but deterioration is not obvious to operators when the bulbs are failing. These factors allow UV light systems to leave dangerous pathogens unknowingly behind.
Advantages to utilizing UV-C light come in many forms:
Disinfection times are very fast. A typical disinfection cycle takes about 15 minutes.
UV-C disinfection is very easy and uncomplicated to understand and use.
All surfaces within a given distance will reach a guaranteed level of disinfection.
UV source devices are powered by normal everyday wall sockets and are efficient to operate.
Disadvantages or challenges to UV-C light disinfection:
Prolonged exposure to UVC light can damage skin and eyes.
UV-C light disinfection requires the light rays to have direct “line of sight” with the viruses and bacteria to work
You may want to use your unit in an area that’s frequently occupied. The room should be empty while in use.
Someone has to man the system, and move it from room to room.
The space where the UV light is applied still requires physical cleaning. UV light is a redundancy.
UV light can be used in many locations with different outcomes:
Hospitals – Healthcare associated facilities to protect patients. Hospitals have used UV light units for many years.
Airports – You can plug in multiple UV disinfection units, line them in the aisle of an airplane, and disinfect the plane in minutes. Germicidal UV is also a good option for airport bathrooms, but you will have to temporarily close the bathroom to make sure no one is in there at the time.
Restaurants – Germs can easily spread from the bathroom to the kitchen in restaurants. Some mobile UV disinfection products (like the ones listed below) are FDA approved and safe to use around food. Using germicidal UV in the kitchen and bathrooms can protect both customers and workers.
Grocery stores – Grocery stores generally have very large open spaces, but mobile UV disinfection units can work in areas where germs originate, like bathrooms and back-of-house areas.
Banks – Think about how many people touch ATMs or bank counters throughout the day. Using a mobile UV disinfection unit at the end of the day or first thing in the morning can protect your customers and your employees.
Hotels – You can plug in a mobile UV disinfection unit in one room while the cleaning crew focuses on changing sheets in the next room. Disinfecting hotel rooms is a great way to protect your guests and keep them coming back to your hotel.
Primary care centers – A lot of people are currently visiting their doctors office with COVID-19 symptoms, potentially exposing other patients. Protecting primary care centers with germicidal UV can help stop the spread of viruses and bacteria.
Assisted living – Caring for the at-risk is a high priority with COVID-19, and as a result, assisted living facilities and other senior care centers can benefit greatly from the added layer of protection that germicidal UV light offers. Mobile units give the greatest flexibility in these environments, but taking the step to install permanent fixtures may become the new norm.
Commercial offices – A lot of your employees may be working remote right now, but they will come back into commercial office buildings eventually. Using germicidal UV is a great way to ensure they are safe at work.