Ultraviolet blood irradiation (UBI) was extensively used in the 1940s and 1950s to treat many diseases including septicemia, pneumonia, tuberculosis, arthritis, asthma and even poliomyelitis. The early studies were carried out by several physicians in USA and published in the American Journal of Surgery. However with the development of antibiotics, the use of UBI declined and it has now been called “the cure that time forgot”. Later studies were mostly performed by Russian workers and in other Eastern countries, and the modern view in Western countries is that UBI remains highly controversial. This review discusses the potential of UBI as an alternative approach to current methods used to treat infections, as an immune-modulating therapy and as a method for normalizing blood parameters. Low and mild doses of UV kill microorganisms by damaging the DNA, while any DNA damage in host cells can be rapidly repaired by DNA repair enzymes. However the use of UBI to treat septicemia cannot be solely due to UV-mediated killing of bacteria in the bloodstream, as only 5–7% of blood volume needs to be treated with UV to produce the optimum benefit, and higher doses can be damaging. There may be some similarities to extracorporeal photopheresis (ECP) using psoralens and UVA irradiation. However there are differences between UBI and ECP in that UBI tends to stimulate the immune system, while ECP tends to be immunosuppressive. With the recent emergence of bacteria that are resistant to all known antibiotics, UBI should be more investigated as an alternative approach to infections, and as an immune-modulating therapy.
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