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Free Content Occupational risk from ultraviolet germicidal irradiation (UVGI) lamps

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The recommended role of ultraviolet germicidal irradiation (UVGI) is to reduce the risk of tuberculosis (TB) transmission in health care facilities. However, excess exposure may result in dermatosis and photokeratitis. In one hospital setting in Botswana, two nurses and one housekeeper complained of eye discomfort, ‘like sand in the eyes’, after working in an administrative office. The following day, one employee noted facial skin peeling. All symptoms resolved over 2–4 days without sequelae. Six weeks later, the syndrome recurred for all three employees. A workplace investigation revealed that the office had been converted from a hospital sputum induction room, and that an unshielded 36-W UVGI lamp was still installed and operational. The on/off switch for the UVGI lamp was immediately adjacent to the fluorescent bulb on/off switch, and did not have a locking mechanism. The US National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health recommends that exposure to UVGI (254 nm) be less than 6000 μJ/cm2 (6000 μW≅sec/cm2) over a daily 8-hour period on unprotected skin or eyes. In the office, UVGI measurements at eye level and looking directly at the UVGI lamp ranged from a low of 20.0 μW≅sec/cm2 when seated to a high of 49.9 μW≅sec/cm2 when standing. These irradiance levels result in allowable exposure times of 300 and 120 seconds, respectively, and are the most likely cause of the clinical syndrome described.
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Keywords: UVGI; tuberculosis; ultraviolet germicidal irradiation

Document Type: Short Communication

Affiliations: 1: Division of TB Elimination, NCHSTP, Centers for Disease, Control and Prevention, Atlanta, Georgia, USA 2: National Institute of Occupational Health and Safety, Morgantown, West Virginia, USA 3: Ministry of Health, Gaborone, Botswana

Publication date: 01 August 2002

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  • The International Journal of Tuberculosis and Lung Disease publishes articles on all aspects of lung health, including public health-related issues such as training programmes, cost-benefit analysis, legislation, epidemiology, intervention studies and health systems research. The IJTLD is dedicated to the continuing education of physicians and health personnel and the dissemination of information on tuberculosis and lung health world-wide.

    Certain IJTLD articles are selected for translation into French, Spanish, Chinese or Russian. They are available on the Union website

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