Health – Sunlight and Infectious Disease

It was not until the mid 1800s that, through the work of Louis Pasteur, Joseph Lister, and Robert Koch, “germs” were revealed to be a cause of contagious and infectious disease. Out of this knowledge gained from Pasteur and his peers has grown an increasing understanding of man and his relationship to germs. It is now believed that disease can only occur when one fails to maintain the delicate balance of power between one’s body and the organisms that produce disease. This is undoubtedly so, for we find people who are carrying with themselves the germs capable of causing an infection, or a “strep” infection, tuberculosis, or influenza, and yet these people are apparently free of disease. Their bodies are strong enough to keep these organisms from growing and developing. This balance, or lack of it, can be seen when members of the same family either resist or succumb to some “bug.”

Understanding of the Sun’s Effect upon Infection

Along with increasing scientific knowledge about the germ and its relation to disease, came the scientific understanding of the sun’s effect on disease.

It was in 1877 that Arthur Downes and Thomas P. Blunt accidentally found that light could kill bacteria. Observing uncolored tubes of brown sugar water, which they had placed on a window sill, they found that the tubes in the shade had become cloudy, indicating bacterial growth. Those tubes exposed to the light had remained clear, indicating no bacterial growth. …

The modern era of sun therapy began with the knowledge that pathogenic bacteria could be killed by exposure to sunlight. Niels Finsen dramatically opened the era by successfully using sunlight therapy in the treatment of tuberculosis of the skin, thereby winning the Nobel Prize in 1903. Stimulated by Finsen, Bernard and Auguste Rollier began treating other forms of tuberculosis by 1904. By the 1920’s and 1930’s, sunbathing for bone tuberculosis and other forms of tuberculosis was a very common treatment. …

While there was an increasing recognition of the efficiency of sunlight therapy for certain types of tuberculosis, the same therapy was also found to be dramatically effective in the treatment of streptococcal infections. In 1929, Ude introduced sunbathing in America for the treatment of erysipelas (a streptococcal infection of the skin). This had been a disease with a mortality rate of 10%, and the use of ultraviolet light for the treatment of this disease dramatically reduced the mortality. In 1929, the improved condition of the King of England, after a course of ultraviolet light treatment was widely publicized.

From the turn of the century into the 1930’s, there continued to be progressive development in the use of ultraviolet light and sunbathing as the most effective treatment for a number of infectious diseases. In 1938, penicillin was discovered and the era of antibiotics and other antimicrobial therapy began. To a large extent, the advent of antibiotics sounded a death knell for the growing interest in sun therapy. Fortunately, a few investigators have kept a trickle of information flowing on the beneficial effect which the sun may have on our health.

About the time that antibiotics were being introduced, a number of researchers independently published reports of the dramatic results seen when a number of patients, having such various infections and diseases as blood poisoning, childbirth infections, and peritonitis, viral pneumonia, mumps, and bronchial asthma, were treated with ultraviolet light therapy to their blood. Miley reported that in eight cases of viral pneumonia, “the toxic symptoms of pneumonia were gone in 24–76 hours following a single treatment. The cough disappeared in three to seven days. X-rays showed the complete clearing of the pneumonia 24–96 hours following a single treatment.” … Heding found that ultraviolet light could also inactivate and destroy cancer-producing viruses.

I have had excellent success in treating fungal infections of the skin. … fungal infections of the feet, including infections of the toes and the area around toenails, also seem to be cured or to go into remission after sunlight therapy. …

In 1935, Deryl Hart was disturbed about the frequency of postoperative infections. As part of an experiment to determine the possible cause of such infections, he exposed Petri dishes to the air of an operating room for one hour during the time that surgery was in progress there. After incubating the Petri dishes, he found 78 colonies of staphilococcus on one plate. He then decided to experiment with the bacteriocidal effect of ultraviolet light. Having suspended a bank of ultraviolet lights from the ceiling of the operating room, he found that all the bacteria within 8 feet of the lights could be killed in 10 minutes, even though the intensity of the lights was reduced to a point where blonde skin at a distance of 5 feet would not react with reddening until after 80 minutes of exposure. Other researchers, after a ten-year trial of Hart’s method, agreed as to the value and importance of his discovery. In one experiment, the barracks of a Naval training center were irradiated with ultraviolet light. The light was found to be capable of destroying enough air-borne organisms to cause a 25% reduction in the incidence of respiratory infections among the recruits. …

Since ultraviolet light has the ability to destroy bacteria in the air, thereby purifying it, and since pure air is necessary for good health, the availability of ultraviolet light seems vitally important. We know that natural sunlight reduces the danger of open-air transmission of disease. When sunlight is not readily available, it would seem wise to utilize some sort of low-level artificial ultraviolet light as part of indoor lighting systems.

Excerpts from Sunlight Could Save Your Life, by Zane R. Kime, 157, 158, 161-169, World Health publications, 1980.

“There are but few who realize that, in order to enjoy health and cheerfulness, they must have an abundance of sunlight, pure air, and physical exercise.” Daughters of God, 175.