Combat UV light disinfection misconceptions with just one step

The concept of using ultraviolet light to disinfect isn't necessarily a new one, but it has gained more attention in recent years, thanks to the push for transparency around infection rates and the financial penalties attached to healthcare-acquired infections and readmissions.

Confusion about the technology seems come hand-in-hand with its higher national profile, however. Experts have heard a variety of myths associated with UV light disinfection as healthcare professionals become more aware of the technology.

Some common misconceptions or myths about the technology include the following:

  • Risk to workers. Some workers in environmental services or infection prevention may be concerned about overexposure to UV light. While being exposed to an excess of UV light does have risks, UV light disinfection systems have safeguards in place to minimize exposure. "You have to consider that every machine has a warning on it," says James Laskaris, an emerging technology analyst with MD Buyline.

    Keri Lestage, PhD, a technology solutions group manager with Clorox Healthcare, agrees. "If the device is used properly, there is absolutely no risk," she says.

  • Danger from mercury. While not all UV light disinfection systems use mercury bulbs, most do, and the presence of mercury has been the subject of recent controversy. However, Mr. Laskaris calls the presence of mercury "almost a moot point" because most hospitals already have light bulbs in the facility that have mercury in them. For instance, in a previous interview with Becker's, Dr. Lestage noted that Clorox's UV disinfection product has the same level of mercury in it as is found in florescent lamps in office buildings and hospitals across the country.

  • Decrease in effectiveness over time. It is true that the bulbs used in UV light systems do need to be replaced, just like regular light bulbs. However, reputable manufacturers measure the lifespan of the bulbs and will provide that information up front. "It's like preventative maintenance on any medical technology — you have to keep it up," Mr. Laskaris says. "If you don't follow directions, yes, there will be a problem."

  • Ability for solo use. It is a myth that UV light disinfection systems can be used in place of old-fashioned cleaning. "UV light is a supplement to existing protocol," says Dr. Lestage. Rooms still need to be thoroughly cleaned with a manual disinfectant as usual, but the UV light system can act as an extra step in the process that can reduce the spore count missed by manual cleaning.

Combat rumors with training, education

Most of these myths and misconceptions about UV light and how to use it can be dispelled with one thing: training.

Dr. Lestage says training and education of frontline staff and others is of upmost importance when a hospital purchases a UV light system. She identifies two distinct arms of training: Understanding the basic protocol for safely using and maintaining the device and also understanding how to implement it within the workflow of the hospital.

Mr. Laskaris agrees. Simply put, he says, "like any piece of technology out there, training is key," he says. "A lot of [these] misconceptions mainly have to do with limits of training."

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