UV-C light in the medical world; hazards and potential

The disinfecting effect of UV-C light was discovered as early as the late 1800s; in 1903, Nils Finsen even won the Nobel Prize for it. Since then, UV-C light has been widely used in many various industries. For example, UV-C light is used in down-flow cabinets in laboratories to disinfect the work surface, and forensic institutes use UV-C light to disinfect surfaces and/or clear DNA. But if the technology is so effective and has been used successfully in other industries for more than 100 years, why hasn't it yet been embraced by the medical industry? In this article, you'll learn more about the opportunities for UV-C in the medical world.

UV-C licht D60

Pros of UV-C light

The advantages of UV-C light are obvious compared to current methods in the medical sector (chemicals, wipes, washing machines, etc).

  • Environmentally friendly: no use of chemicals or water;
  • Fast disinfection cycle: it only takes a few seconds;
  • Effective against the entire spectrum of micro-organisms;
  • Personnel are not exposed to harmful chemicals;
  • There is no need to apply complicated methods or comply with a strict cleaning schedule. All that is needed is a simple and consistent disinfection cycle.

As Michiel mentioned in a previous blog post, pathogens are spread through equipment (among other things), meaning that there is vast potential for the application of UV-C light in the healthcare industry.

Hazards and challenges

But what are the hazards and challenges of implementing UV-C technology in healthcare? The challenges faced by UV-C technology in the medical industry include the following:

  • There are no standards for UV-C light in the medical industry, so healthcare institutions are not sure how to test products;
  • Current disinfection standards, such as EN-14885 are not applicable to UV-C light. These standards are suitable for chemicals, and have variables such as contact time and immersion;
  • There are many unregulated products on the market whose claims do not appear to be well-founded. Floris already wrote a good blog post on what to look out for when buying a product;
  • Direct exposure to UV-C light is dangerous for people, so products must meet high safety requirements , as Noor wrote earlier;
  • Many hospitals’ cleaning practices focus 100% on ‘old’ products, such as steam, wipes and chemicals. With such ingrained habits, it may be hard to convince people to start using innovative methods.

All these challenges are, of course, not insurmountable! If healthcare institutions do proper research on the UV equipment they purchase then it is easy to implement, points to look out for: the correct CE mark, sufficient clinical validation and product safety testing. Furthermore, we know from reliable sources that the Dutch standardization institute in the medical sector is busy writing a UV standard.

Potential presented by UV-C light

Despite the fact that we now know that there are still some challenges to the wide application of UV-C light in the medical sector worldwide, current market developments also provide a lot of opportunities. Not only for companies that are working with UV-C light, but also for healthcare institutions that want to make their processes more efficient, disinfect environmentally conscious and save costs.

According to Yale, the healthcare industry in America alone accounts for 10% of that country's total emissions[1],and if you were to compare this to any other country, the U.S. medical industry emits more CO2 than the entire United Kingdom[2]. So switching to UV-C disinfection can save a lot of CO2. Also, the cost per cycle of UV compared to current method is many times cheaper; after all, you only need some power and one does not use gallons of water, chemicals or other consumables. Furthermore, a disinfection cycle of a medical device with chemicals takes between 10-40 minutes, whereas with a UV-C disinfection device it only takes a few seconds. This also allows hospitals to set up their processes much more efficiently.

The potential for disinfection with UV-C light:

  • Much faster than current methods, so hospitals can use their equipment more efficiently;
  • With UV-C light, costs per disinfection cycle are much lower;
  • UV-C light is environmentally friendly; no water and/or chemicals wasted.

Want to learn more about UV-C light's contribution to a greener medical world? Then also read contribution UV-C disinfection to greener healthcare.

Daan Hoek