The whole world is painfully aware of the dangers of infectious disease, but one of the most common vectors for the spread of those pathogens is often literally overlooked: the soles of our shoes. Studies have shown that the bottoms of our footwear are packed with disease-causing pathogens.
That’s scary enough. But when you put those shoes in a hospital setting, it becomes terrifying. “Multiple studies have shown that the densest population of pathogens in a hospital room is the bottom of people’s shoes,” says Nelson Patterson, CEO of HealthySole, a medical technology and consumer health company. “Frontline workers unwittingly end up transmitting pathogens, germs from room to room, patient to patient — even hospital to home.”
A recent report issued by the Centers for Disease Control confirmed that surface transmission, including the floors of intensive care units (ICUs), was a major factor in spreading the novel coronavirus in Wuhan, China.
“You end up aerosolizing it up to four-and-a-half feet just with your natural movement,” Patterson notes. “It can land on hard surfaces, even on patient skin, and become a potential risk or source of infection.”
The risk isn’t limited to hospitals, however. “There was a fantastic illustrated model that showed when someone coughs or sneezes in a typical grocery aisle, the cloud of pathogens or water droplets can go over into the next aisle,” Patterson notes. “What they didn’t share is that 80 percent of what you sneeze or cough out falls to the floor within 30 seconds.”
Lighting the way
As the world works to stop the spread of disease, new technologies are being harnessed. One of the most promising is Ultraviolet C (UVC) light, which is already used in many medical and scientific settings to sanitize equipment. New products are being introduced that use UVC to assist with infection control — for example, HealthySole’s core product can sanitize the soles of shoes in just eight seconds.
“HealthySole has the form factor of a scale you would find in a doctor’s office,” explains Patterson. “You stand on it, and when your feet are aligned the light is exposed to the bottom of the soles of your shoes. And in just eight seconds that UVC light kills over 99.5 percent of human coronavirus as well as up to 99.99 percent of other disease-causing pathogens that may be on your shoes.”
Speed is everything
That speed is crucial for busy emergency workers, especially in an ICU or emergency room setting. The technology has broader applications, however. HealthySole offers a simpler home version so people can avoid tracking germs into their houses, and use of the device is being explored by airlines, grocery stores, pharmacies, and other businesses to prevent the spread of pathogens as people board planes or enter buildings.
Another benefit of using UVC light to kill pathogens is its safety. UVC light doesn’t pose any health risk for humans as long as it is used properly, and unlike antibiotics UVC light doesn’t create resistance, resulting in “superbugs.” “UVC light alters the DNA of the pathogen, in essence rendering it incapable of reproducing or infecting,” explains Patterson.
When it comes to making the world safer and healthier, we’re all in this together. “What people are thinking is, ‛what’s the little bit that I can contribute or do to help minimize the risk of spreading disease or infection?’” Patterson says. “And frontline workers, when you speak to them now in the midst of the epidemic, they are desperate for anything that will help make their life just a little bit easier. UVC light can be used anywhere, and it takes just eight seconds.”