Can ultraviolet light kill coronavirus?

Coronavirus

'Ultraviolet c' sees rise in popularity as a sanitation product amid COVID-19

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — With so many supposed “remedies” floating around out there regarding the novel coronavirus, sanitation, and treatments, it can be confusing to navigate fact from fiction.

One purported method of destroying the virus is ultraviolet light, but is it just a myth?

A recent comment by President Donald Trump referencing injecting disinfectants or beaming ultraviolet light “inside the body” has received the condemnation of scientists and even New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. Trump later said the remarks were meant to be sarcastic.

It turns out, a certain wavelength of ultraviolet light, called ultraviolet c or UVC, does indeed destroy viruses, but it can also kill skin cells and even lead to skin cancer, according to Portland State University virologist Dr. Ken Stedman.

A bathroom is sanitized with remote controlled UVC lights, which can cause skin damage if directly exposed to human tissue. April 25, 2020 (photo courtesy Sparkling Palaces).

“UVC irradiation leads to damage to genetic materials, particularly DNA, but also RNA (in viruses like SARS-CoV-2),” Stedman told KOIN 6 News via email.

According to the World Health Organization, all UVC and approximately 90 percent of UVB radiation is absorbed by ozone, water vapour, oxygen and carbon dioxide as sunlight passes through the atmosphere.

Artificial UVC in the form of specialized lamps are being used to clean inanimate objects more and more frequently since the outbreak of COVID-19. Banks use it to clean money, some places in China are using it to sanitize their buses, and UV equipment suppliers are making record-breaking sales, according to BBC News.

In fact, Stedman said UVC is used on the Biosafety Cabinets and as germicidal lamps at his laboratory. Some people are even looking into disinfecting used N95 respirators in hospitals using UVC, he added.

A residential cleaning company in Portland has recently adopted the use of UVC lights for extra sanitation and cleaning specialty objects.

Sparkling Palaces spoke with KOIN 6 News about their new use of UVC, the advantages it has, and safety precautions the cleaners use.

“If you go into a client’s home and do this, there’s no pets in the room and the people have to leave, kids obviously, all outside of the room,” explained Sparkling Palaces Operations Manager Chris Boggs.

He clarified that glass, clothing, doors and walls all block UVC. Therefore, the workers all wear personal protective equipment, safety glasses, gloves and long sleeved clothing. In addition, the devices work by remote so a cleaner does not actually have to be in the room when the lights are activated. An indicator strip left in the room tells the user whether enough UVC light hit the surfaces in the room to kill viruses.

The PSU virologist, Dr. Stedman, said conventional soap and water and other cleaning agents “probably works just as well for SARS-CoV-2,” so what’s the extra advantage to using UVC?

A worker of Sparkling Palaces cleaning company in Portland wears gloves and a long sleeved jack while handling UVC light device to sanitize a keyboard. April 25, 2020 (photo courtesy Sparkling Palaces).

Boggs explained that conventional cleaning methods can’t be used for certain objects, like computer keyboards, computer mice, children’s toys, and it adds an extra layer of sanitation on top of the conventional cleaning products they use. It also sanitizes airborne germs, he said.

All the cleaning products Sparkling Palaces use are eco-friendly, including UVC, the company’s owner, Amy Boggs, said.

“We have 14 folks on staff and the biggest excitement is being able to, especially in a home, clean the house, use our EPA registered cleaning products, and then essentially sanitize on our way out with the lights,” she said.

Though the company only cleans residential homes at the moment, Amy said she hopes to expand to commercial businesses soon using UVC, especially the ones that are currently shut down.

The company’s operations manager, Chris Boggs, added that he doesn’t recommend the average person invest in a UVC light without doing “a good amount of research ahead of time.”

He said they recently cleaned a doctor’s residence for a move-in job who told cleaners he approved of the use of UVC in his home as a second step after conventional cleaning.

Editor’s Note: This article was updated to include a reference about UVC being blocked from the Earth’s atmosphere as cited by the World Health Organization, to provide better context.

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