Recently, more and more information is appearing about UV sterilizers as an effective means of combating the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Many people buy such equipment with confidence – in the meantime, it should be known that UV devices do not give 100% certainty to eliminate harmful microbes – and this is not just about coronavirus.
Since the world has started fighting the new coronavirus inducing COVID-19, many manufacturers have decided to take advantage of the situation and increase sales of their products based on human ignorance or simply the atmosphere of fear of illness. Let’s take a closer look at these practices so as not to fall into the “trap” of producers.
Fighting the virus and dangerous marketing practices
To illustrate the misleading actions of some companies, it is enough to give an example of dishonest increased prices of disinfectants and cleaning agents, or a message from producers of some antibacterial soaps praising their products as an effective means of eliminating viruses. This is half true – as all soaps should be able to destroy the coronavirus. Coronaviruses – like most viruses – have a lipid protective coating. Soaps and detergents used even for washing or washing dishes, dissolve this coating, destroying the virus. Antibacterial soap eliminates the virus as much as possible when washing your hands, but it does not work more effectively than other soaps.
However, it is more dangerous to advertise other antibacterial agents, e.g. gels, liquids, as effective in the fight against the virus. Many of these products, although effective against bacteria, do not work against the virus because they do not contain the right ingredients. Antiviral hand disinfectant must contain min. 60% alcohol.
The situation on the market became so serious that EU authorities and authorities of individual countries had to intervene. The European Commission and the network of consumer protection authorities have issued a list of the most frequently reported scams and unfair practices, which include, for example, advertising medicines and supplements to prevent infection (e.g. by increasing immunity), as well as artificially raising prices and threatening that a given product is about to appear sell out (source: https://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/pl/headlines/society/20200402STO76414/koronawirus-uwaga-na-oszustwa-i-nieuczciwe-praktyki-w-internecie). Still other manufacturers have used the increased interest of people in disinfection and sterilization methods (and ignorance of the differences between these processes), advertising UV sterilizers as effective agents for eliminating pathogenic microorganisms. This practice can also be dangerous.
What is a UV sterilizer?
The UV sterilizer is a device that uses ultraviolet radiation to eliminate microorganisms – mainly their vegetative forms. It uses 210–328 nm wavelength, with 254 nm being the most active. We distinguish sterilizers using UVA (the weakest), UVB and UVC (the strongest) radiation.
UV rays are part of the solar radiation spectrum, with mainly UVA rays reaching the earth’s surface. UVB rays are those against which we try to protect the skin in the summer, as they are carcinogenic and cause burns (penetrate deep into the dermis, deeper than UVA). UVC radiation does not reach the Earth’s surface at all – and luckily, because it would be deadly for us.
However, UVC radiation is used in bactericidal lamps or devices called UV sterilizers. Can we, however, call these products sterilizers? This is not so obvious – according to the definition of American EPA or FDA organizations, these are devices for disinfection, (source: https://www.fda.gov/media/136533/download), not sterilization, because the result of their operation does not meet the sterility requirements:
„A UV sanitizer sanitizes items via exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, a sanitizer is a product that reduces, but doesn’t eliminate, microorganisms from the inanimate environment to levels considered safe as determined by public health codes or regulations. On the other hand, sterilization, which is what an autoclave does, is the elimination of microbiological organisms.” (source: https://www.nailsmag.com/599068/whats-the-difference-between-a-uv-sanitizer-and-an-autoclave).
UV sterilizer and coronavirus
Already from the above-mentioned statement, it follows that the UV sterilizer cannot be used in the fight against coronavirus as e.g. a reliable method of sterilizing objects or tools. Lamps and other UV devices should not be used on the skin. Let’s recall the basic disadvantages of these devices:
- UV sterilizer does not remove spore forms of bacteria and viruses:
The purpose of sterilization is to completely remove microorganisms – both their non-spore and spore forms. Only then can we talk about sterility. Meanwhile, UV radiation, by changing the structure of microbial nucleic acids, works mainly on their vegetative forms.
- Insufficiently accurate operation:
Ultraviolet rays in the device propagate linearly and microbes can easily survive in “shaded” places. Radiation does not penetrate deep into solids and liquids. This means that it effectively sterilizes only air (thus reducing the risk of droplet infection and can be used as an auxiliary). It can also be used on smooth surfaces, but here too there are reservations – the source of radiation must be very close to the surface, because its intensity decreases with the square of the distance. UV sterilizers cannot be used to sterilize medical or cosmetic equipment as there is no guarantee that the radiation will reach all surfaces even if the arrangement of the tools changes.
- UV rays are harmful to humans:
The rays from the UV spectrum are divided into three types. Prolonged exposure to UVA radiation accelerates skin aging, deepens wrinkles and causes skin discoloration. In turn, UVB rays damage DNA, lead to sunburn, and can also cause skin cancers. UVC rays, with the shortest wave and the highest energy, very quickly destroy genetic material (source: https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20200327-can-you-kill-coronavirus-with-uv-light). The use of UV sterilizers therefore requires caution. Do not use UV lamps to disinfect the skin, as they may damage the tissue. They can also cause eye irritation or conjunctivitis.
- Length of disinfection process:
When disinfecting surfaces with UVC radiation (i.e. the strongest), another disadvantage is the long exposure time of the disinfected place to radiation. Exposure to UV rays should last at least 8 hours (source: https://www.medonet.pl/koronawirus-pytania-i-odpowiedzi/jak-sie-chronic,czy-lampy-sterylizujace-uv-c-to-dobry-sposob-dezynfekcji-od-koronawirusa-,film,37417026.html).
- Lack of approval of sanitary and epidemiological stations:
Most inspections carried out by employees of sanitary and epidemiological institutions do not recognize UV sterilizers as devices ensuring effective sterilization. Instead, they point to the need to use professional sterilizers – steam autoclaves. This applies to all types of medical facilities, as well as beauty salons, manicure and pedicure studios, tattoo and piercing parlours, etc.
Steam sterilizer – a professional and safe sterilization device
Recommendations of the World Health Organization regarding measures to fight coronavirus focus primarily on the principles of personal hygiene and hygiene of the places we stay, maintaining a safe distance from other people in public spaces and listing substances and devices whose use can eliminate the virus from a specific surface.
WHO guidelines on putting on masks have not changed, although in some countries, wearing them in public places has become mandatory. According to WHO, masks should be worn by:
- patients with COVID-19 (wearing a mask, they avoid the danger of infecting others),
- medical staff,
- other people caring for someone with COVID-19 (source: https://www.who.int/news-room/q-a-detail/q-a-coronaviruses).
However, as some governments have introduced the obligation to wear masks in public spaces, WHO has issued a guide document that facilitates the proper use of masks. WHO emphasizes that professional medical masks should be used primarily by medical staff. It also warns against the risk of self-infection in the event of improper removal of the mask, re-use of the disposable mask or the creation of a sense of false security by persons wearing masks (source: https://apps.who.int/iris/rest/bitstreams/1274280/retrieve).
The basic means of combating coronavirus is hygiene – washing your hands with soap and water for a minimum of 20 seconds or disinfecting them with a product containing min. 60% alcohol, disinfection of frequently touched surfaces in public places. Sterilization of medical and cosmetic equipment is also extremely important. The device recommended for sterilization is an autoclave, i.e. a pressure-steam sterilizer. The sterilizing agent inside the hermetically sealed autoclave chamber is steam at 121 or 134 ° C. Such a high temperature is possible due to the appropriate pressure. It ensures the destruction of proteins of all microorganisms, both their vegetative and spore forms.
The autoclave is compulsory equipment for hospitals, medical and dental offices, aesthetic medicine, and is also recommended by sanitary inspection in beauty salons. Especially in the age of pandemics, care for the sterility of used tools is crucial. Therefore, one of the autoclave manufacturers – Enbio – transferred its autoclaves to hospitals.
The only contraindication to sterilizing a given material in an autoclave is its sensitivity to high temperature or humidity. In the autoclave, you can sterilize medical and cosmetic tools, but also reusable masks, glasses, everyday items such as keys.
Let’s remember that many companies are trying to make money from the existing crisis by selling their products as helpful in the fight against coronavirus. Top stores and online sales platforms have already removed a lot of offers whose creators prey on customer fear and ignorance. That is why it is always worth checking the sources of information obtained, looking for medical rather than popular sources, listening to doctors and experts (e.g. virologists) and not bloggers or celebrities.