Human Disinfection Tunnel: boon or bane?

Binay Singh

Varanasi: Just after the announcement of national lockdown due to outbreak of COVID-19, a controversy sparked over dousing the migrant workers with the disinfectant that contained sodium hypochlorite. The incident occurred in Bareilly district of Uttar Pradesh was widely condemned and criticized on social media platforms.

But, now the spray of the same disinfectant is being used in disinfectant tunnels for whole body sanitization, and people are made to enter the tunnels installed at public places by the government agencies. And, there is no controversy showing that the public have accepted it.

Here is an example. According to a press release of PIB, one of Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR)’s premier engineering lab based in Durgapur, CSIR-Central Mechanical Engineering Research Institute (CMERI) has developed two variants of Disinfection Walkway, which can be considered to be one of the most comprehensive Disinfectant Delivery Systems available.

While the Pneumatic Variant Disinfection Walkway deploys Six Bar pressure Air Compressor to ensure optimum mist formation, the Hydraulic Variant Disinfection Walkway deploys 1 hp pressurised motor High Velocity pump with necessary set up nozzles to ensure optimum mist formation. These Disinfection Walkways can be deployed at multiple critical locations such as Isolation/Quarantine facilities, Mass Transit System Entry points, Medical Centres and any other location with a considerable amount of footfall.

It is a known fact that Sodium hypochlorite is widely used in toilet cleaners and mosquito repellents. Indian Council of Medical Research has recommended the use of sodium hypochlorite only on surfaces (not the human body).

Dr. Subodh Kumar Singh

Now, the question is being raised -Is human disinfection tunnel boon or bane? “The question is, which disinfectant is being used. Most commonly, a 1% hypochlorite solution (or bleach) is being used with free chlorine. Now, understand this, it requires a contact of at least 10 minutes for it to be effective. Would anybody allow it to be on his face or exposed skin for 10 minutes,” wondered Dr. Subodh Kumar Singh, noted plastic surgeon and director of GS Memorial Hospital.

 

Basically, they are enclosed spaces with disinfectant in mist form using a pump and a narrow nozzle connected to it that atomizes it. Many commercial models are already available in the country, he said adding that Chlorine may be an irritant for many – it can cause skin and eye irritation as well as bronchospasm (asthma like symptoms). Other agent, Hydrogen peroxide with free oxygen, will also cause irritation to skin and eyes and can damage it. So, it is either an eyewash or an eye irritant!

According to him, many chemical disinfectants, including sodium hypochlorite and hydrogen peroxide, may be irritant to many, and other chemicals for fragrance, can further accentuate the harm. Many herbal or bio disinfectants are also being advised – from citrus to neem, but their efficacy is not certain against corona. Blue, UV-A, light will burn people and can be extremely harmful on human skin.

“Regulations must come soon for the use of disinfectants on humans and inside the houses. Caution must be exercised till we get a proper scientific advisory on use of disinfectants over people and for inside homes,” said Dr. Singh.

On Saturday, the office of the Director of Public Health and Preventive Medicine, Chennai issued an instruction not to install disinfection tunnels for public use, as it would create a false sense of security and people may be diverted from handwash to disinfection tunnel. Referring to the World Health Organisation (WHO) advisory, it was stated that spraying of alcohol/ Chlorine/ Lysol on human beings is not only harmful but also ineffective.

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