Green Technology to Fight Hospital-Linked Infections

October 2012 / Abell Reports / Environment, Health and Human Services

A new study finds that although significant barriers exist to wider usage, the science of ultraviolet germicidal irradiation (UVGI) remains promising as a weapon in the war against pathogens that kill patients.

Ultraviolet germicidal irradiation (UVGI), a technology commercially available in the United States for more than a century, destroys a lengthy list of disease-causing viruses, bacteria, and mold-making fungi by disabling their DNA and preventing reproduction—and it’s affordable and done without harsh chemical disinfectants. The ultraviolet component of sunlight is one reason that microbes die faster outside than inside, and when placed properly in and around the ducts and coils of air-handling systems, or in portable room units, UV light delivery systems are a proven means of preventing disease transmission and microbial  contamination in biological laboratories, TB clinics, and “sick buildings.”

In the fall of 2011, following a report of successful efforts to reduce some troubling infections in Maryland hospitals [March 2011, The Abell Report, Volume 24, Number 2], The Abell Foundation commissioned a report on the status of the UVGI story, one highlighting the claims, counterclaims, prospects, and limitations proffered by champions and critics. The report focuses on the scope of the healthcare-acquired infection (HAI) problem, the evidence for and against the use of UVGI as either a stand-alone or “adjunct” infection-prevention strategy, along with factors that keep Baltimore’s major medical centers—and most of the state’s network of teaching and community hospitals—from adopting UVGI and other greener protective technologies. This report concludes with recommendations for moving UVGI into the mainstream of infection-control plans and policies, gathered from reviews of the engineering and infectious disease literature, and interviews with more than a dozen people in the UVGI industry, academic engineering, hospital epidemiology, health-care facilities management, and patient safety in Maryland and around the U.S.