Characterization of UVC light sensitivity of vaccinia virus

James J. McDevitt, Ka Man LAI, Stephen N. Rudnick, E. Andres Houseman, Melvin W. First, Donald K. Milton*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

52 Citations (Scopus)


Interest in airborne smallpox transmission has been renewed because of concerns regarding the potential use of smallpox virus as a biothreat agent. Air disinfection via upper-room 254-nm germicidal UV (UVC) light in public buildings may reduce the impact of primary agent releases, prevent secondary airborne transmission, and be effective prior to the time when public health authorities are aware of a smallpox outbreak. We characterized the susceptibility of vaccinia virus aerosols, as a surrogate for smallpox, to UVC light by using a benchtop, one-pass aerosol chamber. We evaluated virus susceptibility to UVC doses ranging from 0.1 to 3.2 J/m2, three relative humidity (RH) levels (20%, 60%, and 80%), and suspensions of virus in either water or synthetic respiratory fluid. Dose-response plots show that vaccinia virus susceptibility increased with decreasing RH. These plots also show a significant nonlinear component and a poor fit when using a first-order decay model but show a reasonable fit when we assume that virus susceptibility follows a log-normal distribution. The overall effects of RH (P < 0.0001) and the suspending medium (P = 0.014) were statistically significant. When controlling for the suspending medium, the RH remained a significant factor (P < 0.0001) and the effect of the suspending medium was significant overall (P < 0.0001) after controlling for RH. Virus susceptibility did not appear to be a function of virus particle size. This work provides an essential scientific basis for the design of effective upper-room UVC installations for the prevention of airborne infection transmission of smallpox virus by characterizing the susceptibility of an important orthopoxvirus to UVC exposure.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5760-5766
Number of pages7
JournalApplied and Environmental Microbiology
Issue number18
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2007

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Food Science
  • Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology
  • Ecology


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