Making Animal Welfare a Priority by Incorporating UV-C Technology
By Daniel Jones
“We do everything possible to safeguard the health and safety of our guests,” says pet daycare owner Josh Donahue, who recently added hospital–grade, infection–control fixtures throughout his family’s 5,000–square–foot facility.
“If animals get sick under our watch, no one will care a lick about our outstanding care and years of industry expertise,” says Josh who, together with his wife, Mandy, opened Audrey’s Barkyard in November 2017 in suburban Wake Forest, North Carolina. “A sick pet means we’ve broken our customer’s bond–of–trust and lost any hope of future referrals that drive 90 percent of our business.”
So, when they learned the business could affordably incorporate protection against airborne pathogens, the couple jumped at the chance to offer this extra safeguard—both for the animals and their community reputation. Mandy explains that, in some sense, pet care is about providing owners with the peace of mind that their animal will be treated like family.
“We already had a pretty extensive nightly sterilization routine, where we apply a hospital–grade disinfectant on kennels, floors, yard and surfaces,” she recalls of their premier pet boarding, daycare and grooming facility. “But so many diseases are spread through the air, Josh and I quickly realized there was a gap in our infection-control strategy—we needed a means of killing the bacteria in the air.”
The couple turned to air systems specialist Jess Kota for recommendations on how to supplement the pet care’s existing disinfection procedures. Kota recommended the use of ultraviolet germicidal irradiation (UVGI or UV-C) technology that uses short-wavelength ultraviolet energy—similar to sun rays—to kill or inactivate airborne and surface-bound microbes.
Kota suggested two separate means of applying UV–C technology in order to ensure the greatest practical control of microbes and airborne microorganisms: 1) upper–room UV–C disinfection units in pet common areas and the building lobby, and 2) UV–C fixtures in the building’s HVAC supply air units to clean airstreams and cooling coils. HOW TO APPLY GERMICIDAL TECHNOLOGY
There are multiple approaches to using UV–C to ensure the greatest practical control of microbes and airborne microorganisms in communal spaces, including:
• Upper-Air Disinfection: The primary objective of upper–air UV–C germicidal fixtures is to interrupt the transmission of airborne infectious diseases in communal spaces (e.g., waiting areas, cafeterias, sports facilities, etc.). Airborne droplets containing infectious agents can remain in room air for 6 minutes and longer. Upper–Air UV–C fixtures can destroy those microbes in a matter of seconds. Kill ratios over 99.9 percent on a first–pass basis have been modeled and, as air is recirculated, concentrations are further reduced by each subsequent pass (“multiple dosing”).
• HVAC Surface Cleaning: Surface-cleaning UV–C systems provide 24/7 irradiation of HVAC/R components to destroy bacteria, viruses and mold that settle and proliferate on HVAC coils, air filters, ducts and drain pans. UV–C prevents these areas from becoming microbial reservoirs for pathogen growth that will eventually spread into air–streams. A system installed for surface irradiation can also provide first–pass kill ratios of airborne pathogens of up to 30 percent with ancillary benefits of restored cleanliness, heat–exchange efficiency and energy use.
While ultraviolet technology (or electromagnetic energy in the 254–nm UV–C band) has been used by hospitals since the 1930’s to control airborne infectious diseases, its application in animal boarding and daycare facilities is rare, according to Mandy.
After examining the pet care facility and routine activities, Kota specified six wall–mounted, upper–room UV–C fixtures that reduce airborne microorganisms near a room’s ceiling. The high-output ultraviolet fixtures create an intense zone of invisible germicidal irradiation, while baffles on the fixture ensure no harmful UV irradiation reaches the lower occupied space. Then, as natural convection or mechanical air currents lift the airborne infectious agents into the room’s upper–air region, they are exposed to the UV–C wavelength, which breaks the bacteria or virus DNA chain, rendering them incapable of reproducing.
In addition to treating the building’s upper–room air, Kota also recommended adding germicidal fixtures to its HVAC system, where infectious agents can multiply year-round and allow viral agents to remain viable for much longer periods. Kota addressed these areas by installing two 17-inch UV-C fixtures in each of the pet care facility’s three HVAC systems to destroy microbes in supply air and on cooling coils, drain and duct surfaces.
Both the wall–mounted upper-air UV–C fixture and the 17–inch single-ended UV–C fixtures installed in the building’s HVAC systems are designed to efficiently inactivate airborne-transmitted pathogens, as well as destroy surface microbes and degrade organic materials that impede HVAC system efficiency. In addition to inactivating pathogens on HVAC surfaces, installing the UV fixture in an air handler, Kota notes, can kill up to 35 percent of infectious agents moving through the air.
REDUCING DISEASE TRANSMISSION
Like most facilities, Audrey’s Barkyard requires clients to be up–to–date with vaccinations, including those covering rabies, distemper and Bordetella. While vaccines can lessen the severity or prevent certain diseases altogether, Josh acknowledges the ease which airborne pathogens can be spread from animal to animal—a bit like how the common cold is spread among children in elementary schools.
“Animals can acquire some upper respiratory infections by simply passing one another on the sidewalk, yet symptoms may not appear for up to five days,” continues Mandy. “That means animals can spread a disease before anyone knows they are contagious and, more importantly, before anyone can take preventative precautions.”
Staff at Audrey’s Barkyard were already using a medical–grade, broad–spectrum disinfectant on all animal equipment and facility surfaces (counters, walls, fixtures and floors). However, for bacterial strains that are spread via air, the UV-C technology would limit the ability for germs to infect multiple animals.
Josh points to a recent case in which a dog developed kennel cough after returning home from four days of boarding. Despite close contact with 40–50 other dogs, there were no reports of other dogs getting sick after interacting with the highly contagious pet. This, he says, is the significant value of the germicidal technology: the ability to limit the spread of contagious diseases and bacteria.
CONTAINING DISEASE OUTBREAKS
During peak enrollment periods at the facility—typically during holidays and school vacations—up to 80 animals can be in close contact, providing an opportunity for cross contamination.
“Because of the extended incubation period for some of these diseases, facility operators may not even know about a problem until a customer calls to alert us to a potential problem,” states Mandy. “Without a layered infection control strategy, large–scale outbreaks can quickly spread and take weeks before the contagion is completely eliminated.”
In addition to safeguarding animals, the added infection control procedures also offer pet owners confidence in their choice to entrust their pet to Audrey’s Barkyard. Like the facility’s four webcams where parents can see and check in on their pets, the additional infection–control measures are another competitive advantage, Josh believes. In the age of YELP and Facebook, poor reviews and word–of–mouth can make or break a local business, especially in a close–knit community where residents routinely look to social media for business endorsements.
“If your pet becomes sick at a new center, not only will you find another provider, but your impression of that facility will forever be negative,” he asserts. “Why wouldn’t a business invest in keeping customer pets safe and do everything possible to demonstrate its care and compassion?”
Daniel Jones is an expert in air and surface treatment with UV–C technology. He is a corresponding member of the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air–conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) Technical Committee 2.9 devoted to Ultraviolet Air and Surface Treatment and ASHRAE Standard Project Committee (SPC)–185.2, “Method of Testing Ultraviolet Lamps for Use in HVAC/R Units or Air Ducts to Inactivate Micro-organisms on Irradiated Surfaces. Jones may be reached at 877–884–4822 or [email protected].