Propelled by COVID-19, a cleaning revolution is underway. Both the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the National Health Service (NHS) called for increased cleaning processes which led to a significant rise in the use of sanitising and disinfectant cleaning solutions, such as wipes, gels and sprays, particularly on surfaces within healthcare and clinical settings. With technology and science moving at an increasing pace, the opportunity to achieve greater levels of cleanliness are more available than ever.
What are the advantages of UV-C decontamination?
Reducing Hospital Acquired Infections
What is a hospital acquired infection? Hospital-acquired infections, also known as healthcare-associated infections (HAI or HCAI), are nosocomial infections usually acquired after hospitalisation and manifest 48 hours after admission to the hospital.
HAIs cost the NHS in excess of £2.2billion each year – additional time in hospital, medications, managing spread and staff sickness all contribute to this weighty figure. So how does ultraviolet light play into all of this? UV-C light possesses potent germicidal activity – breaking down the genetic material of viruses and bacteria to prevent them from causing harm, thus significantly reducing the risk of HAI in the spaces where it is used.
When we think about dirt, there is the obvious stuff – the dirt we can see with our naked eyes. Mud, dust, dropped food, and in hospitals this can also include a multitude of different fluids and particles. However, the dirt we can’t see is where infectious microorganisms lurk. On doorhandles, bed rails and even windowsills within a healthcare environment, some pathogens have been found to live on for up to 30 months; waiting for the next suitable host to make contact.
Regular cleaning schedules will remove the visible dirt, but in the event of an outbreak, there are only a few ways we can be certain that the unseen dangers are also removed. Adding in a UV-C decontamination cycle to a hospital cleaning schedule after a manual clean has taken place can drastically reduce the likelihood of bacteria and viruses spreading. The UV-C renders the cells inert, unable to multiply or cause repeat infections.
When compared with manual cleaning alone, several studies have shown that there are even times where pathogen levels appear to increase following a manual clean. This is due to the pathogen being ‘spread’ around the space by the manual clean, while removing the visible dirt. When adding in UV-C the levels of pathogens are vastly reduced and both patients and staff are protected from the risk of HAI’s.
Limiting the impact of Environmental Stress Cracking
Environmental stress cracking (ESC) and material incompatibility are potential issues caused by increased biocidal and mechanical cleaning, resulting from prolonged or additional manual cleaning processes. ESC is considered to be one of the biggest causes of plastics and polymers failure¹ in healthcare related medical devices. It starts with the formation of cracks which can grow and severely weaken the device or eventually create a full device failure. Hospital medical and clinical equipment, which will often be exposed to alcohols, surfactants, and disinfectants during reprocessing, often experience ESC after multiple cleaning cycles. 409.5 million² medical device units were recalled by the FDA in 2016-2017, with an average of 58.19 million units per quarter. In 2018 and the first half of 2019, that average rose to 99.33 million units recalled per quarter, or 595.98 million in just 18 months. In the UK³, from 2006 to 2010, there were a significant increase in the number of devices recalls and safety alerts – 2124 field safety notices were issued over the 5-year period, showing a significant rise of 1220% percent (62 in 2006 to 757 in 2010). In addition, 447 medical device issues were reported in the same period, of which 44% of these devices were assessed and evaluated as having a potential probability of causing harm and adverse health consequences.
Using decontamination technology, such as UV-C, as an adjunct to manual cleaning processes, rather than increasing the manual cleaning, limits any adverse chemical impacts on surfaces, ultimately reducing the risks of ESC. UV-C in particular leaves no residual substance on surfaces.
Releasing time to care
A result of the pandemic has been increased healthcare staff burnout, with many working for longer periods of time. Time constraints and pressures of their daily routines may not allow appropriate time for necessary or additional manual cleaning as this risks time being taken from other responsibilities; allowances must be made in considering increased application of mechanical or automated cleaning processes. By employing automated technology to aid with cleaning processes, their time will be released to care rather than being taken up by additional manual cleaning. They will also be empowered in the knowledge that the cleaning has efficiently taken place, resulting in fewer HAI’s and ultimately, reduced patient stays.
Room preparation time is minimal, with no special coverings needed to protect vents or smoke alarms in advance nor extra considerations needed for glass and plastic, as UV-C light cannot penetrate these. UV-C light processes take less time than alternatives, making this an ideal solution for areas with high patient turnaround. No residues or particles are left on surfaces that require attention after the process, overall reducing the staff time required to fully turnaround a patient space.
Using the UV-C systems themselves is straightforward; easy to position and simple to operate. Staff training and risk assessment is carried out for all new operators, with the option of further online refresher training if required.
UV-C light has been proven to kill vegetative bacteria by destroying the nucleic acid in DNA after breaking down the outer layer of the organism – in a process called photodimerization, the UV-C light photons are absorbed by microorganisms, causing critical damage to the structure which prevents microorganisms from replicating and therefore inactivating them. Our hospital studies show that a manual deep clean followed by a decontamination with Ultra-V delivers the same pathogen reduction as multiple manual deep cleans, in a fraction of the time. As an example of this, Clostridium difficile is highly resistant to manual cleaning and can remain viable on surfaces for several months. However, carrying out a single treatment with Ultra-V rapidly deactivates C-diff spores.
Using our patented Spectrome™ technology, sensors are placed around the room to monitor the decontamination process, wirelessly communicating with the main unit to control the amount of accumulated UV-C light necessary for effective decontamination. Testing of our technology to the new BS 8628:2022 Standard is underway which will provide a robust audit trail and reporting to show that efficacious UV-C processes have been run each and every time our machines are operated.
Ensuring the decontamination process is automated rather than manual removes the margin of possible human error and, reduces any additional pressures and strains leading or adding to staff burnout.