Exploring UVC disinfection safety concerns in light of COVID-19

Exploring UVC disinfection safety concerns in light of COVID-19
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Dhaval Kate of Future Market Insights (FMI) explores the rise of the market for UVC technologies.

This article will explore the stratospheric rise of the market for ultraviolet (UVC) disinfection products, following a market study by FMI. UV light, applied in frequencies between 200nm and 300nm, is used extensively as a means of disinfecting surfaces and spaces. UVC light is delivered as short-wave radiation and has significant germicidal properties. Although UVC radiation is produced by the sun, it is almost completely absorbed by the ozone layer before reaching us; however, artificial sources of UVC are increasingly being adopted in the healthcare sector and other sterilised industrial settings.

Clinical studies have shown that UVC disinfection is capable of destroying above 90% of all pathogen variants. A number of public health organisations have invested in UVC antiviral sanitation products following the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, and growing awareness of these technologies in emerging economies is likely to drive demand for UVC disinfection products for the foreseeable future.

Safety concerns associated with UVC devices

UVC devices can be linked to health hazards in cases of improper use. UVC lights are substantially stronger than sunlight and can cause adverse reactions in various skin types. According to the International Ultraviolet Association (IUVA), unprotected exposure to the eyes can also result in photokeratitis of the cornea. However, the risk posed by UVC to the retina is significantly lower owing to its high frequency.

Some UVC products generate ozone as a byproduct of the disinfection process, while others produce high levels of heat and light during operational cycles. Consequently, manufacturers must take care to maintain adequate safety standards and to develop adequately detailed operation manuals, in order to assure safe levels of compliance on the part of users.

Key factors affecting the deployment of UVC disinfection systems

UVC disinfection technology largely runs by generating high-intensity UV light, which penetrates the cell walls of microbes including bacteria and viruses and irreversibly damages their DNA and RNA structures. This unique method of attack means that UVC disinfection devices have also been highly successful in eliminating antibiotic-resistant pathogens.

UVC disinfection equipment is used most often in cleaning rooms once a patient has been discharged, owing to the potential of health risks to occupants of the rooms. However, the use of UVC devices in the healthcare sector still presents a number of challenges: for instance, in cases of healthcare facilities with high occupancy rates, delays caused by UVC disinfection to turnaround times as a whole could impact patient admission processes, in addition to threatening revenues for the hospital or clinic.

Changes in cleaning protocols brought about by UVC

UVC disinfection technologies are incapable of completely replacing conventional cleaning practices as yet. However, implementing UVC disinfection protocols alongside existing patient safety and cleaning procedures can help to significantly improve hygiene levels. When considering the adoption of UVC disinfection products, healthcare facilities are best advised to install UVC devices with adequate safety signage and supporting documentation.

Operators should aim to disinfect the bathroom prior to the main patient room when using UVC devices. This practice is essential in maintaining optimal levels of hygiene and safety, while also reducing turnaround times.

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on UVC disinfection

Owing to the ongoing uncertainty over the severity and duration of the ongoing coronavirus outbreak, consumers in varied industries are displaying greater interest in the purchase of UVC lamps and other devices to disinfect sterile spaces.

UVC disinfection products have been proven effective against pathogens, not only on solid non-porous substrates, but also in the air and in water. UVC products erode the outer protein wall of the COVID-19 virus, which results in inactivation. However, published data on the duration, wavelength, and dosage of UVC as applied specifically to the COVID-19 virus is still fairly limited, which makes further legitimate research essential to leverage short-term opportunities for market players.

Meanwhile, restrictions on non-essential transport and trade activities are disrupting supply chains for raw materials and essential components. This will hinder growth prospects in the short term.

UVC radiation is increasingly being used in air supply systems, as concerns over exposure to eyes and skin hinders wider use. While UVA and UVB disinfection products remain challenges to the industry, the higher efficacy of UVC alternatives will lead to faster growth in the market in the near future.

Limited research has indicated that excimer UVC lamps with wavelengths of 222nm (far-UVC) are safer in terms of damage to eyes, skin, and DNA.  However, low-pressure mercury-based UVC lamps are likely to remain the more common variant through the crisis period.

The role of regulators in the industry

UV disinfection products are designated as electronic commodities. Regulatory bodies such as the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are responsible for the regulation of electronics which emit radiation. These bodies are also responsible for the production, packaging, labelling, and trade of medical products.

According to the FDA, laws such as the Radiation Control for Health and Safety Act aid in the reporting of incidences involving accidental radiation emissions. In addition, notifications by regulators in terms of radiation safety and defects in products play a key role in influencing industry developments.

Robotics in UVC disinfection

UVC disinfection robots are fully or semi-automated systems which play key roles in cleaning cycle processes, preventing or reducing the spread of infectious ailments and other pathogens. Robotic solutions of UVC disinfection are relatively safer, reliable in efficiency, and minimise the risks arising from human error.

Improvements by manufacturers in recent years have made these devices easy to use. As a consequence, UVC disinfection robots have become popular in hospitals and clinics as a tool to minimise hospital-acquired infections (HAIs), especially in the developed regions of North America and Europe.

Autonomous robotic product models are capable of navigating through large hospital facilities, providing support to human cleaning teams to disinfect areas where pathogens could spread in the premises. On the other hand, the high costs of operating and maintaining these devices represent a key challenge to sales. This is a major issue especially for players in developing countries.

UVC devices for critical hospital areas

Enhanced strategies for environmental cleaning and disinfection in terminal rooms have proven their importance in minimising cases of HAIs. Pulse xenon-based ultraviolet light systems are gaining traction for the elimination of high-risk microbes in pre- and post-cleaning and disinfection procedures.

Touch-free technologies for surface decontamination using UVC light are effective in reducing microbial populations, which hospitals’ infection control strategies aim to prioritise. Pulsed UVC technology in particular has proven significantly more effective in comparison to manual disinfection procedures. Further research on clinical parameters on the reduction of HAIs is essential to further support the economic feasibility of this technology for high-touch surfaces to eliminate microbial contamination in the environment.

Innovations in far-UVC technology

Airborne ailments such as influenza, tuberculosis, and COVID-19 are a major concern in terms of public health around the world, while the drug resistant variants of such microbes are a continuous source of concern to health authorities. While conventional UVC lights are effective in germicidal applications, they are hazardous to human health owing to their cataractogenic and carcinogenic nature.

As a result, innovations in UV disinfection such as far-UVC lights have been gaining traction in the industry. These products, which make use of filtered excimer lights emitting light in the 207nm to 222nm wavelength, inactivate even drug-resistant microbe strains, without any apparent adverse effects on people.

The higher safety levels of far-UVC lights can be attributed to the fact that this wavelength does not have adequate range to enter even the outer layers of skin or eyes. As the outer layers do not comprise living cells, and because microbes are usually smaller than a micron, far-UVC lights are still effective in the death or inactivation of pathogens. As a result, healthcare authorities have considered the use of far-UVC lighting in the form of overhead fixtures in public locations, in order to limit the spread of airborne pathogens while avoiding health concerns of conventional germicidal UVC lamps.

Future prospects of UVC disinfection products

The use of ultraviolet light for disinfection has already become a popular option in terms of potable water supply. These devices are also commonplace for the destruction of hazardous pathogens such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).

Pathogens on surfaces or in foods are relatively new areas for the use of UVC in disinfection applications. While conventional heat and chemical treatments remain popular, issues of inconvenience, cost, and the potential for exposure to toxins has generated further opportunities for manufacturers of UVC disinfection products.

Market players are expected to invest in customised offerings to meet the needs of various end user entities. Also, with strict financial constraints, the development of affordable options is also likely to remain important for applications in healthcare and other sectors.

Meanwhile, research into far-UV tech is generating interest as a safer alternative to conventional UVC products. Research and clinical trials for the use of UVC in the proximity of humans will hold importance to manufacturers in the years to come.

Advanced UVC disinfection systems are displaying improvements in effectiveness and safety in the eradication of pathogens from a wide range of industrial applications. In addition, the lack of need for chemical exposure or scalding, and safe use on inorganic substrates are likely to bolster the scope of application in the industry for the foreseeable future.

Dhaval Kate
Head of Technology Research
Future Market Insights

This article is from issue 16 of Health Europa. Click here to get your free subscription today.


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