Forget the Clorox™, Turn on the Lights!

Healthcare Acquired Infections, or HAIs, can result in up to $147 Billion worth of medical expenses per year, with surgical site infections accounting for approximately 33% of these HAI’s. To combat this statistic, Hospitals are doing everything they can to eliminate the causes of these infections by not only performing a “terminal” cleaning at the end of each day but also episodic cleaning between procedures. However, the increasingly complex environment of an operating room has resulted in significantly more, and harder to reach, surfaces needing to be sanitized. Compounding the cleaning challenge is the fact that some of the harmful viruses and bacteria can persist within an environment anywhere from weeks, to months, or even years. So, how can your facility’s lighting help fight this battle?

Light, specifically ultraviolet light (UV), can be used to kill bacteria and viruses. In fact, it has been effectively utilized for this purpose in HVAC equipment for many years. However, UV light sources contained within the HVAC equipment serving the operating rooms only kill the bacteria within the air stream and not on the surfaces within the room. Similar UV light sources, such as those commonly referred to as “black lights”, could be used to kill the bacteria on the operating room surfaces. These lights would have to be placed within an already congested ceiling space. While UV light can kill bacteria and viruses, it can also be harmful to humans. UV light is best known as the invisible portion of natural light that can cause sunburn when skin is over-exposed to it and with repeated overexposure has been linked to several forms of skin cancer. UV radiation operates anywhere between 100nm-280nm in wavelength with the most effective germicidal wavelength being between 255nm-280nm. Given this information, it isn’t always practical, or safe, to use UV lights in an OR to supplement a Hospital’s cleaning methods. Research, however, has shown that introducing a visible portion of the natural light spectrum (405nm in wavelength, i.e. the indigo portion of natural white light) can reduce bacteria in a space by as much as 86%. A man-made light fixture capable of generating the 405nm wavelength will not only treat hard to reach areas by bouncing and reflecting off OR surfaces, but it can also kill bacteria floating in the air such as Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA), Clostridium difficile (C. dIff), Vancomycin Resistant Enterococci (VRE), and Norovirus. The indigo light creates a reactive oxygen species within the bacteria causing it to become inactive and die. While this type of light source is not meant for task lighting, some manufacturers have incorporated it into their typical medical-grade “white” light fixtures. These types of lights function by incorporating both white and indigo wavelength emitting LEDs. When hospital personnel are in the OR, whether for cleaning or a medical procedure, the white and indigo LEDs operate simultaneously to provide a continuous means of disinfecting. When sensors within the room determine the OR is vacant, the fixtures switch over to only the indigo LEDs, which intensify their disinfecting capabilities. This two-tiered approach can provide a continuous-means of disinfecting a medical environment without posing a health hazard to the clinical staff and patients.

Ever since Thomas Edison developed the first working electric lamp , the lighting industry has been working to identify new and innovative ways to capitalize on electric light. With this new cutting-edge lighting technology in our toolbox, engineers and lighting designers will be better equipped to support the medical community in their life-saving efforts. For more information on lighting or electrical design, please do not hesitate to contact John M. Sundy, LC at (412) 421-0145 or