Feature, Healthcare

Two minute explainer: Continuous disinfection by light

Operating rooms could be one of major application areas for continuous disinfection using visible lighting as it has been shown to dramatically reduce superbugs such MRSA and C. difficile.

What is it? The use of lighting in the blue end of the visible light spectrum to kill bacteria in hospitals and other spaces.

Why is this important? Almost a third of hospital readmissions are due to healthcare-associated infections. If this technology gets accepted by healthcare providers it will open up a huge market for the lighting industry. 

Is it new? Although it’s creating a lot of excitement in the lighting sector right now, the big breakthrough came almost 20 years ago, when the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, Scotland, discovered that a tuned lighting system could, over time, kill hospital superbugs, including MRSA and C. difficile.

How does it work? Energy from short-wave ultra-violet UV-C will kill most pathogens almost instantly, but that spectrum – ranging from 100–280 nm – will kill healthy cells as well and is dangerous to the human eye and other organs. Light at longer wavelengths takes much longer to kill bacteria but can be used with people present. The narrow spectrum of visible light excites the molecules producing a chemical reaction that kills the bacteria from the inside as if bleach had been released in the cells. 

What’s the best wavelength? Different manufacturers use different wavelengths. Current powered by GE uses the 300 to 380 nm range but much of the focus is on the 405 nm wavelength. A study by the Univesity of North Carolina found that light at 405 nm inactivated three major bacteria (MRSA, vancomycin-resistant enterococci or VRE. MDRA) on surfaces with contact times of between one and 96 hours.

Does it look different to normal lighting? No, the narrow-band LEDs can be incorporated into normal warm-white luminaires so they look like standard LED panels.

Where is it being used: It’s currently in some healthcare facilities and some hospitals in the US, which good results. For instance, the Maury Regional Medical Center in Columbia, Tennessee, found that after a year, bacteria in the operating room had been reduced by 85 per cent, and the number of surgical site infections was reduced by 73 per cent. The technology is also finding its way into ambulances thanks to a licensing deal between Vital Vio and emergency response vehicle manufacturer Code 3.

Who are the major players in sector? Hubbell Lighting, Kenall (both of whom use technology licensed by the University of Strathclyde), Vital Vio (which has links to the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute), Acuity, Visa Lighting (both of whom use Vital Vio patents); and Current, powered by GE (which uses in-house technology).


  • Continuous disinfection using light is one of the sessions at the Lighting Fixture Design 2018 conference, which takes place on Wednesday 20 June and Thursday 21 June 2018. Organised by Lux and LEDs Magazine, the event takes place at the Cavendish Conference Centre in London. For more information and to reserve you place, click HERE.




  • Vital Vio CEO Colleen Costello will give a presentation at the Lighting for Health and Wellbeing conference in Newport Beach, California on July 18, 2018.