Hands On: Gear, Gadgets & Great Ideas


Paul A. Berlin | | Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Illuminating Infection Control

Pandemic flu, TB, common colds, MRSA... are you doing all you can to prevent these and other infectious pathogens from contaminating your patient compartment and medical devices? If not, it might be time to consider the benefits of adding ultraviolet C-band (UV-C) lighting to your ambulance disinfection procedures.

UV-C lights have been used for years in various sanitation/sterilization processes and are commonly found in air cleaning systems in hospitals, labs and other places where airborne pathogens may be present. UV-C has also been effectively used in the purification of water that may contain various pathogens such as E. coli. Today, in addition to disinfecting air and water, UV-C is being used in a novel wayÛfor disinfecting surfaces.

How UV-C works: Microorganisms can be classified into basic groups of bacteria, viruses, fungi, protozoa and algae. The genetic material DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) or RNA (ribonucleic acid) is the target of the UV-C light. It penetrates the coating of the organism, disrupting the DNA or RNA in the nucleus, rendering the cell incapable of reproducing.

UV-C is rarely found on Earth's surface because the atmosphere actively screens it out. To take advantage of the germicidal potential of UV-C, an alternate means of producing UV light has been achieved using a design similar to standard fluorescent lampsÛwith the notable exception that UV lamps are typically manufactured with Ïhard glassÓ quartz, which allows for a UV transmittance of more than 90% of the radiated energy.

UV-C lights have many advantages. They're environmentally friendly with no dangerous materials to handle or store, so employees won't need to handle any toxic chemicals. The lights are also immediately effective, economical and operator friendly. (Just flip a switch.) Maintenance is easyÛperiodic cleaning and annual lamp replacement should do it. Installation involves only simple wiring, timer switches and a power connection. UV-C is also more effective against viruses than chlorine.

Paul A. Berlin, MS, EMT-P, is the medical division chief for Gig Harbor (Wash.) Fire & Medic One and a practicing paramedic with 35 years' experience in emergency medicine.

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