While healthcare professionals, scientists and engineers battle to keep COVID-19 patients alive and find a cure/vaccine to keep the deadly virus at bay in the future, there might just be one avenue worth exploring for hospital or hotel infrastructure: UV filtration systems.
Commonly used to disinfect hospital airstreams from the 1940s to the 1960s, such systems fell out of favour as the UV tubes were prominent ozone gas generators and among the first items to be phased out once the public debate opened up around greenhouse gas emissions and the damaged ozone layer.
A particular spectrum of ultraviolet light, far UV-C, can inactivate viruses that cause a risk to human health. Some hospitals are already reportedly using UV robots to deep clean wards when infected patients have moved out. Containing a series of bulbs emitting concentrated UV-C light, they destroy viruses and other harmful microbes by damaging their DNA so they can’t multiply. Typically viruses reproduce by attaching themselves to cells and injecting their DNA.
For many years, UV germicidal lamps have been used for disinfection of air and surfaces within buildings such as hospitals, care homes and laboratories where hygiene is paramount.
While COVID-19 is a new virus, little is known about its make-up or resistance but such UV treatment was used successfully in previous outbreaks of SARS and MERS – other strains of coronavirus.
UV filtration mechanisms are slowly making a comeback within extraction systems as they also eradicate odours and break down grease particles.
It is hoped that engineers will be able to develop an air sensor that could be placed in ductwork or air handling units to detect airborne viruses and UV rays could eradicate them.
UVC is, however, extremely harmful to human skin and eyes and should not be used in any form by anyone not wearing PPE.
Syntegra MD Alan King said: ‘More so than probably ever before, this is a situation when, around the world, we really are all in this together. Hopefully researchers, engineers and manufacturers can all work collectively to develop and produce a system that effectively eradicates this terrible virus. By focusing on a building’s airways, such a filtration system would hopefully provide greater protection to larger numbers of people rather than targeting individuals which would be particularly welcome in hospitals, care homes and hotels.’