Is Light The Answer To Superbugs?

The latest research on hospital superbugs (MRSA's) has come up with a novel solution to disinfecting hospital wards and rooms. By using different forms of light waves researchers have shown that light can kill these deadly staph bacteria which can cause skin infections like boils as well as more serious illnesses.


A team of researchers at Scotland's University of Strathclyde in Glasgow has been experimenting with using light waves to decontaminate exposed areas. By using a narrow spectrum of visible-light wavelength, which is actually violet colored, the team found that they could safely reduce bugs in the hospital wards.


Clinical trials at Glasgow Royal Infirmary showed that this high intensity narrow spectrum system called the HINS-light Environmental Decontamination System works better than regular cleaning and disinfection methods. When used in an empty room, surface bacterial levels were reduced by 90%. When used in a room occupied by MRSA-infected burns patients, the effectiveness of the HINS-light EDS varied between 56% and 86% depending on the length of time the system was operated.

Because this type of light doesn't affect patients or staff, it can be used alongside normal lighting, enabling hospital wards to be constantly bathed in the cleansing light. Combined with regular LED lighting, the HINS decontamination system gives a warm light and will make it much easier for hospitals to deal with the superbug infection problem.

This HINS-light works by exciting molecules contained in these superbugs. These molecules then produce a reactive chemical species that is lethal to the MRSA and other hospital acquired infections (HAI's).

The team that developed this technology was a multi-disciplinary team including two microbiologists, an electrical engineer and an optical physicist. This research was published in the Journal of Hospital Infection in November 2010.

San Diego

In San Diego, Palomar Pomerado Health (PPH) also announced in November 2010 that it has started using a new hospital cleansing system. This system - the Xenex PX-UV disinfection system- also uses light as a way to cleanse and disinfect its hospital wards and operating rooms in California. However, it uses a different part of the light spectrum to do its work.

Ultra-violet Disinfection

This system uses a high intensity broad spectrum ultra-violet (UV) light to fuse the DNA of the microbes thus killing them. It kills the bugs both in the air and on various surfaces and recent hospital trials show that it is 20 times more effective than conventional cleaning and disinfectant methods. With this method hospital rooms can be cleansed in less than five minutes which makes the system faster as well. This pulsed xenon technology is also extremely cost-effective making it attractive to budget restrained hospitals and HMO's.

However, the disadvantage of using this system compared to the system developed in Glasgow is that using UV light can be a hazard for both patients and staff. This means that UV technology may only be able to be used to disinfect empty rooms, whereas the Scottish system can be used continually.

As these HAI's are the 4th leading cause of death in the US, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), anything that can get rid of them altogether is good news for patients. As these different light disinfection methods help reduce MRSA infections in hospitals, researchers may soon be looking to see how effective light therapy can be in treating staph skin infections like boils.

Keep checking our website for the latest information and research into these nasty staph bacterial infections.