Hospital infection rates have risen in recent years killing around 100,000 patients and costing $30 billion annually. In an attempt to destroy these bacteria, doctors have turned to a new method of disinfection. They are using ultraviolet light to tear the DNA of these bacteria apart.
The process is called Ultraviolet Germicidal Irradiation and it employs light in the ultraviolet wavelength. We experience UV rays in our everyday lives through sunlight. Most of this light is filtered through the ozone, however all of it is capable of damaging biological tissue. A common example of this damage incurred by humans is sunburn and long term exposure to UV rays has also been linked to numerous forms of skin cancer.
Fortunately, the effect UV light has on bacteria is far worse than on human skin. At frequencies of 265 nm and 185 nm the UV light penetrates the cellular walls of the bacteria and disrupt DNA replication. This prevents the cell from replicating or repairing itself, rendering it harmless or dead.
Considering that infectous agents can be a threat in all parts of a hospital, many of them are now focusing on ensuring “that all the nooks and crannies are clean, and that it’s done in as perfect a manner as can be done,” Dr. Marisa Montecalvo, a contagious diseases specialist at Westchester Medical Center, said. Along with chemical disinfectants, hospitals are now turning to devices like the UV emitter from Xenex Healthcare Services. At $125,000, the UV emitter is portable and is reportedly “20 times more effective than standard chemical cleaning.” Also, according to one study at Cooley Dickinson Hospital in Northhampton, MA, the UV emitter reduced the rate of Clostridium difficile infection by a shocking 82 percent.
Although UV sterilization remains a supplementary process to chemical cleaning, the market for these devices is expected to grow by $50 million in the next three years.