The stealthy new coronavirus turned face masks into accessories, and now millions of people are looking for ways to keep them clean. Can UV light do that job?
Ideally, single-use face masks should be thrown away, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Any disinfection process used would need to kill the coronavirus without damaging the ability of an N95 mask to filter out particles or fit snugly on the skin.
Ultraviolet germicidal radiation is one of the methods presented by the CDC, and UV light generated significant interest from the public.
Here’s a closer look at ultraviolet light, and why it might be a useful tool to combat the new coronavirus in certain situations.
What is ultraviolet light?
- Ultraviolet light, also known as UV light, is invisible to humans.
- Although it is adjacent to visible light in the electromagnetic spectrum, its wavelengths are too short for our eyes to record and detect.
- UV rays are also high energy, so while we can’t see them, we certainly feel their effects.
- For example, the ultraviolet light generated by the Sun is what makes a tan or a burn, and can also cause skin cancer.
What are the 3 Categories of UV light?
Ultraviolet light divides into three categories, according to the World Health Organization (WHO):
- This is the lowest energy form of UV and represents approximately 95% of the ultraviolet light that reaches Earth from the Sun.
- It can penetrate deep into the layers of the skin, making it responsible for the effect first tan.
- It also contributes to skin aging, wrinkles, and possibly skin cancer.
- This type of ultraviolet light with higher energy can penetrate the superficial layers of the skin.
- It is responsible for late tanning (and burning) and is a major contributor to skin cancer and aging.
- The Earth’s ozone layer absorbs most of the UVB that reaches us, so it only represents approximately 5% of the solar UV that reaches the planet.
- The category of ultraviolet light with the highest energy (the highest would be X-ray territory) is also the most harmful.
- Fortunately, the ozone layer and the atmosphere fully absorb it.
How does UV light disinfect?
Ultraviolet light can penetrate pathogen cells and damage DNA or RNA that contain their genetic code.
There is also some evidence that UV radiation can damage the amino acids and proteins that protect the virus or allow it to bind and infect a host cell.
Can I disinfect myself with UV light?
- No way. UV rays harm your skin and eyes, and you won’t even know it’s happening until it’s too late.
- And UVC light, which generally used in commercial devices, is the most damaging of the group. So, no, don’t try to use UV rays on the body (WHO agrees with this).
- That’s particularly important because humans cannot rely on their intuition to know if they are close to a UV source that they should avoid.
If UV rays already used in hospitals, what is the problem?
- The problem is that there hasn’t been much research to determine if UV rays are useful in disinfecting masks and other personal protective equipment.
- Using UV sterilizing methods on masks is not as straightforward as it sounds.
- It is much easier to disinfect smooth and flat hospital surfaces with UV light, such as floors and medical equipment.
- Since UV rays can only disinfect what they shine on, any shadow cast by the small folds of a mask could prevent those spots from being decontaminated
Can I disinfect my mask with UV rays?
- First of all, you shouldn’t worry about disinfecting an N95 mask if you’re not a front-line healthcare worker.
- The CDC requests that this equipment reserve for those who need it most.
- For the rest of us, who try not to get infected – or infect others – when we visit the grocery store, the CDC recommends using a cloth face cover, which can be washed thoroughly.
- There are no clear independent standards for determining whether consumer-oriented UV disinfection devices are genuinely useful.
- Many manufacturers have made false claims about what their UV sterilizers can do.
- Furthermore, improper handling of a powerful device carries the risk of severe damage to the skin and eyes, the scientists noted.
Can I sterilize my things with UV from sunlight?
- If we have free time, the sunlight is lovely. But “it takes a long time.”
- It’s probably best to put a mask in a brown paper bag and hang it on a well-ventilated porch for about seven days. By then, the pathogen should still be dead.
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