Risk assessment for the harmful effects of UVB radiation on the immunological resistance to infectious diseases

Environ Health Perspect. 1998 Feb;106(2):71-7. doi: 10.1289/ehp.9810671.


Risk assessment comprises four steps: hazard identification, dose-response assessment, exposure assessment, and risk characterization. In this study, the effects of increased ultraviolet B(UVB, 280-315 nm) radiation on immune functions and the immunological resistance to infectious diseases in rats were analyzed according to this strategy. In a parallelogram approach, nonthreshold mathematical methods were used to estimate the risk for the human population after increased exposure to UVB radiation. These data demonstrate, using a worst-case strategy (sensitive individuals, no adaptation), that exposure for approximately 90 min (local noon) at 40 degrees N in July might lead to 50% suppression of specific T-cell mediated responses to Listeria monocytogenes in humans who were not preexposed to UVB (i.e., not adapted). Additionally, a 5% decrease in the thickness of the ozone layer might shorten this exposure time by approximately 2.5%. These data demonstrate that UVB radiation, at doses relevant to outdoor exposure, may affect the specific cellular immune response to Listeria bacteria in humans. Whether this will also lead to a lowered resistance (i.e.,increased pathogenic load) in humans is not known, although it was demonstrated that UVB-induced immunosuppression in rats was sufficient to increase the pathogenic load. Epidemiology studies are needed to validate and improve estimates for the potential effects of increased UVB exposure on infectious diseases in humans.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Radiation
  • Environmental Exposure
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Cellular / radiation effects
  • Immunity, Innate / radiation effects*
  • Infections / immunology*
  • Ozone / analysis
  • Rats
  • Risk Assessment
  • Ultraviolet Rays / adverse effects*


  • Ozone