Ultraviolet irradiation and the mechanisms underlying its inactivation of infectious agents

Anim Health Res Rev. 2011 Jun;12(1):15-23. doi: 10.1017/S1466252311000016.


We review the principles of ultraviolet (UV) irradiation, the inactivation of infectious agents by UV, and current applications for the control of microorganisms. In particular, wavelengths between 200 and 280 nm (germicidal UV) affect the double-bond stability of adjacent carbon atoms in molecules including pyrimidines, purines and flavin. Thus, UV inactivation of microorganisms results from the formation of dimers in RNA (uracil and cytosine) and DNA (thymine and cytosine). The classic application of UV irradiation is the inactivation of microorganisms in biological safety cabinets. In the food-processing industry, germicidal UV irradiation has shown potential for the surface disinfection of fresh-cut fruit and vegetables. UV treatment of water (potable and wastewater) is increasingly common because the process is effective against a wide range of microorganisms, overdose is not possible, chemical residues or by-products are avoided, and water quality is unaffected. UV has been used to reduce the concentration of airborne microorganisms in limited studies, but the technology will require further development if it is to gain wider application. For bioaerosols, the primary technical challenge is delivery of sufficient UV irradiation to large volumes of air, but the absence of UV inactivation constants for airborne pathogens under a range of environmental conditions (temperature, relative humidity) further compounds the problem.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aerosols / radiation effects
  • Air Microbiology*
  • Bacteria / radiation effects*
  • Ultraviolet Rays*
  • Water Microbiology*


  • Aerosols