Do UV lamps and air purifiers work against Covid-19?


THE global pandemic has pushed people to try out consumer health products that may help stop the spread of SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes Covid-19. Some of the in-demend items that have emerged from the pandemic are ultraviolet (UV) lamps and air purifiers. But do they really work? Or are consumers just wasting money?

UV lamps are supposed to help disinfect surfaces, while air purifiers are meant to filter and remove indoor pollutants like allergens, dust and mold as well as some airborne bacteria and viruses from the air. Top health institution Makati Medical Center (MakatiMed, explains that all products marketed as such may be able to help fight Covid-19.

Joseph Buensalido, MD, from the Section of Infectious Diseases explains that UV light has been used against pathogens for decades, and some recent studies reported that it can also inactivate SARS-CoV-2. “But to kill viruses and bacteria using UV light, you should use the right kind as there are three types of UV light: UVA, UVB and UVC. With the shortest wavelength and the highest energy, UVC is also called as germicidal UV as it can inactivate and kill microorganisms,” he adds. “UVC damages the DNA and RNA of pathogens, stopping them from replicating.”

The doctor stresses that harnessing UVC’s disinfecting capabilities requires emitting the right dosage, which can be damaging to human cells. Even brief exposure to UVC can cause skin burns and eye injuries. “That is why only a trained professional should be allowed to use it within a controlled environment such as hospitals and industrial spaces,” points out Dr. Buensalido. “UVC lamps that are marketed for home use may or may not be effective. However, there isn’t enough evidence to use it outside of a clinic or a hospital setting, particularly because its misuse may be harmful or produce long-term adverse effects on people’s health.” 

Just like UVC light, there are also a number of research saying that air purification may be effective against Covid-19. With all the air purifier options in the market, it’s important to determine which ones work best for your situation during this pandemic.

Gregorio Ocampo, MD, of the Section of Pulmonary Medicine says that air purifiers have been widely used before this global health crisis, as it has proven to help alleviate allergic reactions and asthma symptoms. “As for preventing the spread of Covid-19, it’s best to get air purifiers with HEPA or high-efficiency particulate air filters since it can capture particles smaller than SARS-CoV-2, which can be transmitted in small droplets that may linger in the air for hours,” he adds.

But before rushing out to buy an air purifier, the doctor reminds consumers to check the size of the room, as most air purifiers have specifications for this. Some air purifiers also create noise when running as they use fans to force the air through their filter, so this is another factor to consider. “Be careful of air purifiers that may produce ozone, which can damage the lungs when inhaled. It can even make asthma worse and can cause coughing, throat irritation, shortness of breath, and chest pain even in low amounts,” according to Dr. Ocampo.

Air purifier necklaces are also all the rage now, but the doctor says there’s little scientific evidence that these personal devices are effective against viruses since they don’t have a reliable filter. “As far as the medical and scientific community knows, it’s much better to get rid of viruses from the air is through air purifiers with HEPA filters, which these necklaces don’t have.”

Adding anti-Covid-19 defense mechanisms at home is always a welcome response to the ongoing pandemic. But Dr. Buensalido reminds consumers that products like UVC lamps and air purifiers should only be part of a multi-faceted approach in fighting the virus.

“Whether you have these devices at home or choose not to get them, nothing beats following minimum standard health protocols such as wearing face masks, frequent washing of hands, observing physical distancing especially in confined spaces, opening windows for improving air flow, and avoiding sick people,” he says. “And these won’t even cost you thousands of pesos.”

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