The war against COVID-19 is expensive. Not including the hefty treatment costs, buying vitamins and supplements, face masks and other protective equipment, and health products like air purifiers to prevent infection can burn a hole in one’s pocket—especially if they don’t really work.
Health experts from Makati Medical Center give the lowdown on products that claim to help prevent the virus and suggest the right way to protect ourselves from the disease.
Does UV lamp work?
Joseph Buensalido, MD, from the Section of Infectious Diseases, says UV light has been used against pathogens for decades, and some recent studies reported it can also inactivate SARS-CoV-2.
“But to kill viruses and bacteria using UV light,” he adds, “you should use the right kind as there are three types of UV light – UVA, UVB, and UVC”.
Of the three types, UVC is used to kill microorganisms. It has the shortest wavelength and the highest energy. “UVC damages the DNA and RNA of pathogens, stopping them from replicating,” adds Dr. Buensalido.
Using it right also factors in its effectivity. The infectious disease expert reveals that for UVC to disinfect, the right dosage must be emitted, which can cause skin burns and eye injuries to a person exposed to it, even briefly.
“That is why only a trained professional should be allowed to use it within a controlled environment such as hospitals and industrial spaces,” points out Dr. Buensalido.
UVC lamps marketed for home use, he says, “may or may not be effective”, adding, “There isn’t enough evidence to use it outside of a clinic or a hospital setting, particularly because its misuse may be harmful or produce long-term adverse effects on people’s health.”
How about air purifiers?
If you are getting an air purifier to prevent the spread of COVID-19, Gregorio Ocampo, MD, of the Section of Pulmonary Medicine, suggests getting one with HEPA or high-efficiency particulate air filter “since it can capture particles smaller than SARS-CoV-2, which can be transmitted in small droplets that may linger in the air for hours”.
Dr. Ocampo reminds consumers to check the unit’s specifications if it is suitable for the size of the room in which it will be used.
He adds, “Be careful of air purifiers that may produce ozone, which can damage the lungs when inhaled. It can even make asthma worse and can cause coughing, throat irritation, shortness of breath, and chest pain even in low amounts.”
…and the wearable ones?
Wearable air purifiers have become a popular “shield” the public uses believing the claim they protect the wearer from the virus, so much so that a public official in Cebu ordered PUV drivers and conductors to wear them.
But Dr. Ocampo says there’s little scientific evidence that these personal devices are effective against viruses because they don’t have a reliable filter. “As far as the medical and scientific community knows, it’s much better to get rid of viruses from the air through air purifiers with HEPA filters, which these necklaces don’t have.”
To use or not to use
At the end of the day, Dr. Buensalido reminds that UVC lamps and air purifiers should only be part of a multifaceted approach in fighting the virus.
“Nothing beats following minimum standard health protocols such as wearing face masks, frequent washing of hands, observing physical distancing especially in confined spaces, opening windows for improving air flow, and avoiding sick people,” he says. “And these won’t even cost you thousands of pesos.”
Double mask versus Delta
With a more contagious variant, another Makati Med infectious disease expert, Marion Kwek, MD, reiterates the importance of following – and augmenting – safety practices that stem the spread of the virus.
Dr. Kwek underlines the importance of the quality of face mask. She says, “It’s a must for your mask to snugly fit your face. Choose a mask with nose wire so you can adjust it to your face accordingly.
She suggests avoiding masks with gaps on the side of the face or exhalation valves or vents which render them ineffective in stopping the virus from spreading. “Your mask should also have at least two layers of breathable materials.”
Double-masking, Dr. Kwek says, helps improve the fit or fill in the gaps. “But ideally, you should wear a disposable surgical mask underneath and a cloth mask on top.”
Men with beards, on the other hand, are recommended to trim the hair close to the face for a better mask fit.
Dr. Kwek seconds the use of air filters to improve ventilation – or better still, open windows or turn on fans to reduce virus particles from accumulating in the air.
She also reminds retaining practices such as sanitizing frequently touched objects and surfaces, avoiding touching of face (“At times when you really need to; just make sure that you do so with clean hands,” she says); and washing hands properly, at least 40 to 60 seconds (“If soap and water are not easily available while you’re out, you can use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Make sure to wash your hands when you get home.”).
When going outside, Dr. Kwek says to limit the time spent in closed spaces because “there is a larger risk of being exposed to the virus when you’re indoors with strangers for a longer time”.
“Whether you’re vaccinated or not, avoiding exposure to the virus is the best way to keep COVID-19 away from your home. It’s best to mask up, wear a face shield, and keep observing COVID-19 safety protocols until this pandemic is all over.”