President Donald Trump’s comments at a recent Coronavirus Task Force briefing led to distorted press reports implying that he proposed drinking bleach and Lysol to fight coronavirus.

However, his remarks have led others to explore another technology he mentioned: Ultraviolet Light Treatment.

In the wake of the briefing, the American media was quick to dismiss the statements related to the treatment. And those outlets that did cover the topic managed to locate “experts” to diminish the finding that the Wuhan Coronavirus could be killed quickly by UV light. This example comes from The Seattle Times:

“Sunlight definitely kills things. It’s just really slow,” said Andrea Silverman, environmental engineering and global health professor at New York University, who studies the role of sunlight in virus decay such as in natural wastewater treatment pond systems.

How long would it take to disinfect, for example, a glove hung outside in the sun? Retired biophysicist David Lytle has done modeling on sunlight’s impact in epidemics or in a potential bioterrorist attack with viruses such as Ebola or smallpox in a well-known research partnership with scientist Jose-Luis Sagripanti, then director of the Army’s high-level biosafety lab at the Edgewood Chemical Biological Center in Aberdeen, Maryland.

Lytle calculated that on May 1, two to three hours of midday sunshine would be needed to kill microscopic coronavirus particles (not including larger globules) in Washington, D.C., and New York City, which receive similar amounts of sunlight in their respective positions near the 39th and 41st parallel north. On June 21, the summer solstice, it would take 1.3 to 2 hours.

“That’s impractical in the middle of a city with tall buildings” that cast shadows, Lytle said.

However, Ultraviolet Blood Irradiation (UBI) was once a respected form of treatment for infections. In the Journal of Photochemistry and Photobiology, a team of authors including Dr. Michael R Hamblin of the Wellman Center for Photomedicine at Massachusetts General Hospital published a paper focused on an intriguing question: Ultraviolet blood irradiation -Is it time to remember “the cure that time forgot”?

Ultraviolet blood irradiation (UBI) was extensively used in the 1940s and 1950s to treat many diseases including septicemia, pneumonia, tuberculosis, arthritis, asthma and even poliomyelitis. The early studies were carried out by several physicians in USA and published in the American Journal of Surgery. However with the development of antibiotics, the use of UBI declined and it has now been called “the cure that time forgot”.

…Later studies were mostly performed by Russian workers and in other Eastern countries, and the modern view in Western countries is that UBI remains highly controversial. This review discusses the potential of UBI as an alternative approach to current methods used to treat infections, as an immune-modulating therapy and as a method for normalizing blood parameters. Low and mild doses of UV kill microorganisms by damaging the DNA, while any DNA damage in host cells can be rapidly repaired by DNA repair enzymes.

The process of UBI draws a small amount of blood from a person, then passes the blood through UV light. The blood is then returned to the patient.

The authors go through the history of the therapeutic use of the approach and conclude that in the wake of antibiotic-resistant bacteria and the number of deaths due to sepsis that perhaps it is time to bring back UBI:

…Sepsis is an uncontrolled response to infection involving massive cytokine release, widespread inflammation, which leads to blood clots and leaky vessels. Multi-organ failure can follow. Every year, severe sepsis strikes more than a million Americans. It is estimated that between 28–50% percent of these people die. Patients with sepsis are usually treated in hospital intensive care units with broad-spectrum antibiotics, oxygen and intravenous fluids to maintain normal blood oxygen levels and blood pressure. Despite decades of research, no drugs that specifically target the aggressive immune response that characterizes sepsis have been developed.

We would like to propose that UBI be reconsidered and re-investigated as a treatment for systemic infections caused by multi-drug resistant Gram-positive and Gram-negative bacteria in patients who are running out of (or who have already run out) of options. Patients at risk of death from sepsis could also be considered as candidates for UBI. Further research is required into the mechanisms of action of UBI. The present confusion about exactly what is happening during and after the treatment is playing a large role in the controversy about whether UBI could ever be a mainstream medical therapy, or must remain sidelined in the “alternative and complementary” category where it has been allowed to be forgotten for the last 50 years, and sometimes referred to as “photoluminescence therapy”.

It is important to note that sepsis is one of the more severe effects being reported in coronavirus-infected patients, as pointed out by Louisiana State University researchers.

Most of the time, bacterial infections trigger sepsis. But [Dr. Bud] O’Neal believes that Our Lady of the Lake’s sickest coronavirus patients have sepsis not from bacteria, but from the viral pathogen that causes the virus.

Knowing early on whether a coronavirus patient is at high risk for sepsis could be a game-changer in making sure that those patients immediately receive aggressive treatment before they begin to deteriorate.

“We can identify those patients who are highest risk and admit them to the hospital, versus those who are lowest risk and send them home,” said O’Neal, who is also a critical care and pulmonology specialist and LSU Health Sciences professor who’s been treating intensive care coronavirus patients.

For those interested in a more detailed discussion of the medical history and development of UBI may enjoy this video.

In the fight against coronavirus, no one should ignore any important tool just because Trump mentioned it as a potential treatment option. It is troubling to think that there could be deaths that didn’t have to happen because of the ridiculous press coverage.


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