Is UVC Effective for Disinfection?

Combating Superbugs with UVC LEDs


Eoin Connolly

Eoin Connolly

Vice President of Product Management

A common question that arises when companies research UVC LED technology is, “How effective is ultraviolet (UV) light for disinfection?” This question often arises when companies are considering new ways to integrate disinfection functionality into new medical devices or supporting equipment.

Global spending on infection control—which includes chemical and physical disinfection equipment—is projected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 6.5 percent, reaching $21.06 billion by 2022. Not surprisingly, the fastest growing segment is new disinfection systems and devices- including those that use UVC LEDs- with hospitals representing the largest and fastest growing group of end users. 

This article explains how UVC light can address antimicrobial resistant superbugs and some considerations for integrating this technology into medical equipment and devices.

Download our free Whitepaper, "Adding Value to Medical Devices by Integrating Disinfection."

Superbugs are a Super Problem

"Superbug" is a term used to describe a strain of bacteria that is resistant to most antibiotics. Superbugs can cause pneumonia, gastrointestinal sickness, blood stream and skin infections.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), superbugs like C. difficile (C. diff), Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA) and others cause nearly 1.7 million illnesses in U.S. hospitals each year, adding an estimated $20 billion dollars in cost to treat. Moreover, 99,000 deaths are attributed to healthcare-associated infections (HAIs) each year.

This threat extends beyond the U.S. borders. According to an analysis by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), superbugs are responsible for the deaths of nearly 33,000 people in Europe per year.

Microorganisms and viruses continue to develop new resistance mechanisms that help them fend off the effects of antimicrobials and antivirals, suggesting many superbugs have become resistant to almost every available means of chemical treatment (i.e. pharmaceutical solutions).

How is UVC Disinfection Different?

UVC disinfection is a physical process that disrupts the DNA of harmful microorganisms and destroys their ability to reproduce—thereby eliminating the spread of C. diff, MRSA, and many other pathogens.

How Effective is UVC for Disinfection?

Experiments conducted at EMSL (a third-party microbiological testing facility) measured the log reduction of common microbes after they had been exposed to UVC light at several time intervals and at various distances from a Klaran UVC LED device.

The chart below shows the results of the exposure testing for MRSA at various time intervals and distances from the light source. Approximately 120 seconds are required to achieve a 6 log reduction of MRSA at a distance of 2 inches from the light source.

  • MRSA log reduction as a function of distance and time using Klaran LEDs.
    MRSA log reduction as a function of distance and time using Klaran LEDs.

The exposure data for the other microbes can be seen in the chart below. After 120 seconds of exposure at a distance of 2 inches, the data shows that there was slightly more than a 3 log reduction on all the gram positive bacteria. Bacteria of gram negative type experience a log reduction value between 4 and 5; fungi had a log reduction value of approximately 3 and gram positive (spore forming) experienced just over a 1 log reduction.

  • Log reduction as a function of time for various microbes at 2'' distance.
    Log reduction as a function of time for various microbes at 2” distance.

The results of these experiments show that exposure to UVC light can inactivate common microbes and serve as an effective method for no-touch disinfection. You can read more about these experiments in this application note.

Considerations for Using UVC LEDs

UVC LEDs are compact in size, which gives manufacturers a wide range of options in terms of how UVC LEDs can be integrated into medical products and ancillary equipment. Rather than designing your products around a disinfection solution, you can design your products with the disinfection solution.

When assessing the integration of UVC LEDs in your product application, it’s important to perform the proper microbial tests with UVC based on your intended marketing claim and end-user objectives. Consider the required dosage of UVC light, the target microbe(s) and desired log reduction, and other factors (and be sure to avoid these common challenges in microbial testing). If you are exploring the possibility of integrating UVC LEDs in your new or existing products, contact our application engineering team so that we can help you determine the ideal approach.

Another item to keep in mind is that the use of UVC light (a physical process for disinfection) is not a replacement for traditional terminal cleaning and chemical disinfection protocols (e.g. manually wiping down a medical device or piece of medical equipment). Recent surveillance audits suggest that even the best healthcare teaching facilities have gaps when staff are responsible for patient care and safety.

Conclusion

UV disinfection helps combat antimicrobial superbugs like C. diff and MRSA by naturally disrupting their DNA code, rendering them lifeless and unable to inflict illness in humans. As an effective solution for disinfection, UVC LEDs give medical equipment and device manufacturers the opportunity to assist their end-users with infection control and to create safer healthcare settings.

If you are interested in learning more about UVC LEDs in your product, please contact us today for a discussion.


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