Many hospitals struggle with getting rid of lingering bacteria and pathogens in patient rooms and keeping these patients from becoming infected. A new technology is being tested and used in hospitals as part of the complete infection control procedures- Ultraviolet light.
What exactly is Ultraviolet Light, and why is it so useful for disinfecting rooms for infection control?
Ultraviolet light is one section of the segment of electromagnetic energy emitted by the sun. They are typically invisible to the human eye, but are the portion of the rays of sunlight that cause sunburns in people. For use in hospital disinfection the UV light is generated by large electric lamps that resemble a fluorescent lamp.
These lamps work by emitting pulses of rays at a specific wavelength that has been know to disinfect the air, and is typically aimed at areas where it can reach the most airborne microbes and expose them directly to the UV light. The UV rays do not typically actually kill the microbes, but instead damage the DNA, making it so the microbes are unable to reproduce and replicate. This way, even if they come in contact with a patient they will not cause an infection. This damaging effect to DNA is the same reason that UV light can cause skin cancer in people; it damages the ability of the cells to replicate successfully and causes some to develop into tumors.
However, the UV lightwaves used in disinfection are not actually harmful to humans, because they are at a different wavelength than the ones that cause harm to people.
Ultraviolet light is categorized into three main groups based on the size of the wavelength:
UV-C – This is the wavelength used for air disinfection. Overexposure in people can cause eye irritation or skin redness, but does not lead to skin cancer or long term damage.
UV-B – This is the most dangerous wavelength of ultraviolet light emitted by the sun, and exposure to this causes the skin damage that can lead to skin cancer.
UV-A – This range is known more commonly as “blacklight”, and makes up the the major type of UV in sunlight. This wavelength is what causes skin tanning and is generally thought to not be very harmful.
A trial led by Duke Health found that when a hospital uses UV-C lamp machines as part of their infection control procedures it cut transmission of 4 superbugs among patients by 30 percent. These UV lights do not prevent transmission of infections through direct contact though, and should not be used in place of standard infection control procedures, just as an addition to them.