How are ultraviolet rays used in medicine

22.09.2020 12:38

The Federal Office for Radiation Protection advises caution when using UV-C disinfection devices

Nicole Messmer PB2 / press work
Federal Office for Radiation Protection

Protection of people from radiation is crucial

The Federal Office for Radiation Protection (BfS) believes that caution is advised when using UV-C disinfection devices to combat the SARS-Cov-2 coronavirus. Since UV radiation can damage the skin and eyes and has been proven to be carcinogenic, UV-C disinfection devices should only be used in such a way that no people are exposed to the radiation. This also applies to devices that emit short-wave UV-C, also known as "FAR-UVC".

Based on current scientific publications, it is currently being discussed whether disinfection devices that emit short-wave UV-C radiation in the range of 222 nanometers pose fewer risks than devices currently on the market with wavelengths around 254 nanometers. This is justified with the lower depth of penetration of the 222 nanometer wavelengths in the eyes and skin. However, the scientific assessment of possible health consequences is still at the beginning.

The President of the Federal Office for Radiation Protection, Inge Paulini, emphasized: “The research results currently available do not yet allow a reliable assessment of the extent to which shorter-wave UV-C radiation represents a lower risk. It is also unclear whether the devices on the market actually only use such shorter-wave UV-C radiation at a wavelength of 222 nanometers. ”The BfS will assess the state of knowledge on the effects of shorter-wave UV-C radiation and carefully monitor whether these applications are also used can be used in the presence of people - including to fight the corona virus.

The natural source of UV-C radiation is the sun. UV-C radiation is completely filtered out by the earth's atmosphere so that natural UV-C radiation does not reach the earth's surface. UV-C radiation has been used for a long time to disinfect air, water and surfaces as well as to disinfect food. This form of disinfection is usually used when there are no people in the room or the source is installed in such a way that people present are not exposed to any radiation. These applications are unproblematic from the point of view of radiation protection.

However, Paulini pointed out that UV-C radiation should never be used to disinfect the body. When disinfecting air and surfaces, the following applies: "If the use of UV-C devices cannot be dispensed with, it is essential to ensure that skin and eyes are protected from radiation."

The BfS does not check the disinfecting effectiveness of UV-C disinfection lamps. In addition, the BfS does not issue any product recommendations. However, the BfS recommends that those who decide to buy a UV-C disinfection device should observe the manufacturer's information when purchasing. These should be as complete and specific as possible. This includes, for example, information about the effectiveness, i.e. how long and from what distance irradiation has to be carried out in order to actually reduce active microorganisms. Information on the wavelengths and the irradiance of the emitted UV radiation should also be available. Promises of effectiveness should also be clearly substantiated by the manufacturer.

Federal Office for Radiation Protection:
The Federal Office for Radiation Protection (BfS) works to protect people and the environment from damage caused by radiation. The BfS informs the population and advises the federal government on all questions of radiation protection. The more than 500 employees evaluate radiation risks, monitor environmental radioactivity, provide active support in radiological emergency protection and perform sovereign tasks, including medical and occupational radiation protection. Ultraviolet radiation and radiation-relevant aspects of digitization and the energy transition are further fields of work. As a higher scientific and technical authority, the BfS conducts research and is networked with national and international experts. Further information at

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