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Should I use a UV light to kill the coronavirus?

Last Updated Jun 10, 2020 at 10:04 am PDT

This undated electron microscope image made available by the U.S. National Institutes of Health in February 2020 shows the Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. Also known as 2019-nCoV, the virus causes COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, NIAID-RML
Summary

Ultraviolet light can kill viruses, but consumer grade products are unproven

Doctor says stick to proven methods to prevent spread of coronavirus

NEWS 1130 is working hard to get you the information you need about the COVID-19 pandemic.

When you have questions, NEWS 1130 Gets Answers.

Question:

“There are devices that claim to kill viruses and other germs with ultraviolet light. I know UV is sometimes used in clinical settings to kill germs, but is there any evidence that UV treatments work to clean and disinfect things like phones against COVID?”

Answer:

Online retailers in Canada appear careful not to explicitly claim their UV lights will kill the coronavirus.

One site sells several UV lights alongside masks, hand sanitizer and face shields, on a page devoted to pandemic supplies. The product descriptions hail the lights’ disinfectant powers, accompanied by a disclaimer stating they’re not meant to supplant other health measures.

Phone Soap, a company selling a device promising to disinfect your cell phone while charging it, specifically notes that it doesn’t “claim to kill the coronavirus (as no studies have been done to verify this),” but also says “sanitizing your phone is an imperative step in your hygiene routine — especially during this pandemic.”

So is it worth spending $40 or more on an ultraviolet wand?

“Don’t do something unproven, when there are recommended cleaners,” said Dr. David White, a University of Toronto professor of family and community medicine.

“We are still in a discovery stage with COVID-19. The effectiveness of various strategies is still being evaluated. Some things we are currently recommending are proven, some may prove to be of limited value, new ones may be evaluated as effective.”

Most UV lights sold as disinfectant tools claim to emit UV-C, a segment on the radiation spectrum separate from the sun’s UV-A and UV-B rays known to cause sunburns.

There is ample proof that professional grade UV-C lights kill the vast majority of known bacteria and viruses. Health-care professionals can use UV lights to disinfect used masks and other equipment if the supply of new ones runs out, according to B.C.’s contingency plan for personal protective gear.

But consumer products don’t have the same track record as the devices found in hospitals – and the unproven devices could even cause harm, White said.

“Using something that is ineffective gives a false sense of security,” he said. “Doing unproven things expends energy that should be devoted to things that work.”

The World Health Organization also warns people not to use UV lamps anywhere on their body, adding, “UV radiation can cause skin irritation and damage eyes.”

“Cleaning your hands with alcohol-based hand rub or washing your hands with soap and water are the most effective ways to remove the virus,” the WHO says.

The agency also debunks an apparent myth claiming one can expose themselves to temperatures higher than 25 C to prevent contacting COVID-19.

“You can catch COVID-19, no matter how sunny or hot the weather is. Countries with hot weather have reported cases of COVID-19. To protect yourself, make sure you clean your hands frequently and thoroughly and avoid touching your eyes, mouth, and nose,” the WHO says.

If you’re wondering about whether you should be disinfecting your phone, the B.C. Centre for Disease Control says you should be cleaning your frequently touched electronics “at least daily,” using a spray or wipe with 70 per cent alcohol or more.

“Before cleaning or disinfecting your electronics, read the manufacturer’s instructions to ensure there are no warnings or products that should not be used,” the agency says on its website, adding you should dry your phone immediately after cleaning it.

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