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A scientific hypothesis: ozone is a highly effective air disinfectant

Now that the COVID-19 pandemic is raging in Lithuania, the virus poses a high risk to health professionals providing medical aid, their family members as well as hospitalised patients and their visitors. KU researchers, based on the latest research and in search of ways to fight the pandemic, raised a hypothesis that improving air quality in the public spaces of hospitals through the use of ozone may lead to a lower probability of infection, easier disease progression, and faster recovery. It is therefore planned to carry out an in-depth study and start using ozone technologies to fight the spread of COVID-19.

Advantages of ozone

Dr. Aelita Skarbalienė from the Faculty of Health Sciences of KU points out that COVID-19 virus droplets settle to ground within 1-2 m (up to 4 m) on floors and other surfaces, and their infectivity persists for up to several days. “Indoor air quality is very important to prevent the spread of infection in healthcare facilities. So far, the most effective solutions for improving air quality and disinfection are being sought. But we see a solution: as established, when coronavirus proteins are rich in cysteine and tryptophan, they can be easily and safely affected through the use of ozone. It interacts with proteins, carbohydrates, and nucleic acids and damages the viral RNA”, notes dr. Skarbalienė. She emphasises that ozone gas has many advantages in disinfecting the air and killing viruses, as it can disperse and penetrate, completely filling all areas of the room, including cracks, fittings, fabrics, and furniture surfaces.

According to prof. dr. Arvydas Martinkėnas, Head of the Department of Medical Technologies in the Faculty of Health Sciences of KU, due to its strong oxidising power, ozone can decompose macromolecular compounds and disrupt the integrity of the walls or capsules of bacteria, protozoa, viruses, and fungi, yet at the same time not promote microbial resistance. “Ozone gas is likely to be beneficial in disrupting all routes of the virus spread. Should it be proved that they are superior to other liquid chemicals, ozone gas could be used as a disinfectant or skin antiseptic”, explains dr. Martinkėnas.

Ozone gas for air disinfection in hospitals

The use of ozone gas for disinfection in hospitals has been proven, however, most studies deal with methods for disinfecting hospital surfaces, water, sewage systems, but not air. “We want to conduct new and relevant research into the use of ozone technologies in the fight against COVID-19. The results of the research would allow the use of ozone as an air disinfectant.

That could improve the air quality in the public spaces of hospitals as well as reduce the consequences of coronavirus on the physical and psycho-emotional health of hospital staff”, says dr. Skarbalienė. According to her, the constant risk of infection is a strong stressor that makes a negative impact on the psycho-emotional state of health care workers. Research has already been conducted in different places of the world, the results of which clearly demonstrate that those physicians who come into contact with COVID-19 patients are several times more likely to experience stress and suffer from eating disorders, nausea, insomnia, depressive symptoms, and emotional outbursts.

“The extreme situation dictated by the pandemic-caused quarantine conditions makes us look for ways to quickly and efficiently connect research and its practical implementation. Ozone therapy is an alternative medical treatment, a field in which KU boasts significant achievements. The research would be undertaken by scientists with experience in working with ozone and medical technologies  and knowledgeable about the studies of air quality and psycho-emotional status. The findings of the research would allow the effective use of ozone gas in practice as a means of killing the virus”, says prof. dr. Artūras Razbadauskas.

A prospective controlled research in parallel groups with about 120 employees (doctors, nurses, and assistants) is planned. The participants would be divided into three groups: the first group would consist of individuals working in an environment where the air is ozonated and hand disinfection with ozonated water is performed. The second group would be people working in an environment where the air is ozonated. The third group would consist of those who work in a normal environment without any changes. The experiment would take a month. Air quality monitoring, microbiological examination of surfaces, and psycho-emotional testing of physicians would be carried out regularly before and after the experiment as well as during its implementation.

Applies to all sites of infection transmission

The findings of the research conducted by KU staff could be widely applied in potential infection transmission sites (medical institutions, means of transport, or homes) and would thus stop the spread of viral infection through potential transmission routes. “It is likely that this will lead to a lower spread of communicable diseases, morbidity, and mortality and will ensure the safety of medical staff and a better psycho-emotional state caused by a safer environment. Faster blocking of infection and less fear of getting infected would contribute to avoiding the potential consequences of psycho-emotional disturbance in health care institutions and in communities. The positive findings of the conducted research would strengthen the scientific substantiation and wider application of ozone therapy as an effective and ecological disinfection method”, emphasises dr. Skarbalienė, researcher at the Faculty of Health Sciences.

The position of KU is supported and approved by prof. Algimantas Kirkutis, member of the Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania. However, according to him, the use of ozone in Lithuania is not easy to implement, because the method has not been legalised in the national health care system. In order to legitimise the use of ozone in the fight against the pandemic, it is first necessary to prove its effectiveness, then to regulate it legally and to manufacture and distribute ozone gas generators.

“It is good that the University is working on finding opportunities to use the available material and scientific resources to organise the use of ozone in our country. I am informed that the University, together with its partners, is initiating and willing to implement COVID-19 prevention, diagnosis, and treatment options with the help of ozone therapy. At present, a detailed presentation of that very useful and relevant research has been submitted to the Ministry of Health”, said prof. Kirkutis.