Often expensive and sometimes fatal, hospital acquired infections (HAIs) are adding billions of dollars to the country’s skyrocketing cost for quality healthcare. For hospitals, HAIs can result in significant financial penalties.
As a result, global spending on infection control — which includes chemical and physical disinfection equipment — is projected to have a compound annual growth rate of 6.5 percent, reaching 17.78 billion by 2021. One of the fastest growing segments includes new disinfection systems and devices, including those that employ deep ultraviolet (UVC) light emitting diodes (LEDs).
Hospitals and other healthcare facilities have long relied on germicidal ultraviolet, or GUV systems, equipped with low pressure mercury vapor lamps to disinfect everything from operating rooms to air ducts. Though effective, the lamp’s peak 253.7 nm UV wavelength is not optimal from a germicidal standpoint and disinfection issues persist.
As a solution, medical device and ancillary equipment manufacturers are turning to UVC LEDs as a new way to develop handheld or portable disinfection devices to reduce HAIs in a wide range of hospital applications.
These new, solid state devices deliver pure UVC energy in optimal disinfection wavelengths, are much smaller than traditional UV lamps, consume far less energy, and can operate instantaneously, saving time and money.
HAIs are caused by common pathogens. Each has a unique radiation absorption, or “fingerprint,” meaning they absorb UV photons differently at different wavelengths based on their cell structure.
Absorbing UVC LED photons disrupts the pathogen’s DNA, rendering it harmless and unable to replicate. While each pathogen absorbs radiant energy at different wavelengths, the UVC LED’s output range of 260-270nm is considered the “sweet spot” for deactivating DNA.
In addition, the light from a UVC LED can be positioned directly where it’s needed, enabling much more effective disinfection. Device designers can direct or transmit disinfection radiance into even the tightest or hardest to reach locations using focusing optics or light channels to amplify the UV intensity.
Finally, while traditional UV sources emit heat and light in a 360-degree pattern around the target, LEDs emit radiant energy in a single direction while heat is removed from the back side. This allows LEDs to be positioned very close to a target surface — a major advantage in heat sensitive healthcare applications — all while delivering improved log reduction values in less time.
All of these elements allow equipment designers to develop new devices that automate specific healthcare-related tasks, such as disinfecting intricate surgical tools, portable and/or work station devices, or manual point-of-care-hygiene applications.
The design flexibility afforded by UVC LEDs also allows designers to create devices that complement chemical disinfection protocols. For example, UVC LEDs can help disinfect tips on common tools such as endoscopes, which have been cited as a potential HAI source because of their complex design and shape.
Consider the following use cases for UVC LEDs in preventing the spread of HAIs:
- Clostridium difficile (C. Diff.), one of the highest reported HAIs, is a remarkably resilient pathogen that’s easily transported on high contact devices like pagers, laptops, mobile phones, stethoscopes, workstations, and diagnostic tools. These devices are currently cleaned with bleach or isopropyl alcohol disinfection wipes, which can have an offensive odor, accelerate equipment wear, and must be used within their useful shelf life. Consider applying a quantifiable and trackable UVC disinfection dose via handheld or countertop devices — or integrated directly into portable work stations and diagnostic equipment — to disinfect surfaces as hospital staff transition between patient rooms. Movement toward disinfection verification — or simply enhancing current protocols with defined disinfection doses — provides infection control personnel with a way to confidently and quantifiably monitor and reduce HAI’s.
- The CDC has reported a 50 percent reduction in Central Line Associated Blood Stream Infections (CLABSI) between 2008 and 2014, but recent improvements have been less dramatic. Disinfecting the hub of a central line is a manual process that relies on friction and time. It takes up to 60 seconds when executed properly and there is no way to verify compliance. A handheld LED device attached to an infuser could be aimed at the hub and within seconds deliver a UVC dose capable of a 4-log reduction (the relative number of live microbes that must be destroyed) of common pathogens like MRSA. The result: a consistent disinfection dose is applied to a common site of pathogen transport in far less time by a device that also records each dose for reporting or analysis.
- UVC LEDs can also be used to address Ventilator Associated Pneumonia (VAP). Though it occurs in only 1-2 percent of patients using mechanical ventilators, VAP mortality rates are greater than 50 percent. Focused UVC energy from a strategically positioned device could reach into and disinfect complex passageways, in-vitro components, and even nebulizer equipment in-situ without heating the target surfaces.
New information coming from the CDC suggest that the incidence of C. diff infections are beginning to show signs of having decreased from 2011-2014, according to preliminary data analyses. This success is primarily attributed to strict adherence to terminal cleaning, hand hygiene, and antibiotic stewardship, according to a story on NPR quoting CDC officials.
However, future infection reduction depends on combating pathogens that are becoming increasingly resistant to chemical disinfection methods. Adding disinfection with UVC LEDs is a viable alternative to chemicals because it disrupts the DNA of harmful microorganisms and destroys their ability to reproduce thereby eliminating the spread of MRSA, C. diff, and many other pathogens that have no known natural defense mechanism to UVC energy exposure.
Healthcare providers, medical device OEMs, and disinfection equipment manufacturers alike have every reason to embrace smaller, portable devices that employ solid-state technology like UVC LEDs. Doing so will significantly bolster what’s projected to be a long and difficult fight against the spread of infectious diseases and the ongoing emergence of chemical resistant super bugs.
Mark Pizzuto is the Director of Product Management – Disinfection with Crystal IS, a manufacturer of high-performance UVC LEDs.