UV industry associations dismiss claims of UV light use on the human body to fight COVID-19

Recent statements from U.S. President Donald Trump suggesting that Ultraviolet (UV) light can be used on the human body to disinfect against COVID-19, have been totally dismissed by major industry associations with decades of experience. The International Ultraviolet Association (IUVA) and RadTech North America are educational and advocacy organizations consisting not just of of UV equipment vendors, but also scientists, engineers, consultants and members of the medical profession. The organizations recently released this statement:

“We would like to inform the public that there are no protocols to advise or to permit the safe use of UV light directly on the human body at the wavelengths and exposures proven to efficiently kill viruses such as SARS-CoV-2. UV light under the conditions known to kill such viruses are also known to cause severe skin burns, skin cancer and eye damage. We strongly recommend that anyone using UV light to disinfect medical equipment, surfaces, or air in the context of COVID-19, utilize applications that are supported by sound scientific evidence, follow all recommended health and safety precautions, and avoid direct exposure of the body to the UV light.

The ultraviolet spectrum is a band of electromagnetic radiation at higher energies than visible light, split into four major categories: UV-A (400 – 315 nm), UV-B (315 – 280 nm), UV-C (280 – 200 nm), and vacuum-UV (VUV, 100 – 200 nm). UV-A and UV-B are present in sunlight at the earth’s surface. These parts of the ultraviolet spectrum are common causes of sunburn and, with longer-term exposure, melanoma. The risks of human exposure to UV-A and UV-B are well known. Solar UV may be used for disinfection purposes; exposures in the order of several hours to days might be effective at treating surfaces and water. Artificial sources of UV-A and UV-B are not commonly used for disinfection.

On April 23, U.S. President Donald Trump wondered aloud at a press conference in the White House that if blasting people’s insides with ultraviolet (UV) light might be a more effective way to slow the Coronavirus spread, than the measures currently in use by public health officials worldwide.

UV-C has been used for disinfection for over a century, with applications in water treatment, air systems and surfaces. The use of UV-C as a disinfectant is supported by decades of scientific research. UV-C radiation is absorbed by DNA and RNA (the genetic code for all lifeforms), changing  their structure. This damage inhibits the ability of the affected cells to reproduce, meaning that they cannot infect and are no longer dangerous. Whereas the UV exposure required to inactivate different micro-organisms varies, though there are no known microorganisms that are immune to this treatment and it is regularly used against bacteria, viruses and protozoa.

In the same way that UV-C can inactivate bacteria and viruses, it can be damaging to human cells too, since our cells also contain DNA. This exposure can cause skin irritation, damage to the cornea, and cell mutations leading to cancer. Exposure to UV-C radiation is regulated globally, with a common agreement on the risk to human health and safe exposure levels. These regulations and standards set limits on allowable exposure, though in all cases it is recommended to avoid UV exposure where possible.”

SUMMARY

  • UV-C irradiation of the skin, eyes or any body part should be avoided wherever possible.
  • Always wear appropriate PPE when handling un-shielded UV-C radiation sources (e.g. long-sleeved clothing, gloves and a UV-opaque face shield).
  • Always use UV-C devices in accordance with the manufacturer’s operating instructions to ensure safe operation, and within appropriate enclosures where light leakage has been controlled, and where the risks have been properly managed.”

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