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UV industry associations discourage the use of UV light on the human body

The organisations caution that UV light under the conditions known to kill such viruses are also known to cause severe skin burns, skin cancer and eye damage

| | Apr 26, 2020 | 5:25 pm
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CHEVY CHASE, Maryland, United States, 26 April 2020: The International Ultraviolet Association (IUVA) and Radtech North America have come out with a statement in response to recent reports suggesting that ultraviolet (UV) light can be used on the human body to disinfect against the coronavirus. IUVA and RadTech North America are educational and advocacy organisations, consisting of UV equipment vendors, scientists, engineers, consultants and members of the medical profession.

In a written statement aimed at informing the public, the two organisations said 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, the two organisations said. They said that they strongly recommend that anyone using UV light to disinfect medical equipment, surfaces or air in the context of COVID-19 – 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), the two organisations said. 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, they said. The risks of human exposure to UV-A and UV-B are well known, they said, adding that 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, they said, adding that 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, the two organisations said. UV-C radiation is absorbed by DNA and RNA (the genetic code for all lifeforms), changing its structure, they said. This damage inhibits the ability of the affected cells to reproduce, meaning that they cannot infect and are no longer dangerous, they said. Whereas the UV exposure required to inactivate different microorganisms varies, there are no known microorganisms that are immune to this treatment and it is regularly used against bacteria, viruses, and protozoa, they said. 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, they cautioned. This exposure can cause skin irritation, damage to the cornea and cell mutations leading to cancer, they said. Exposure to UV-C radiation is regulated globally, with a common agreement on the risk to human health and safe exposure levels, they said. These regulations and standards, they added, set limits on allowable exposure, though in all cases it is recommended to avoid UV exposure where possible.

In summary (as per the two organisations):

  • 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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