How To Choose Disinfectants for Emerging Viral Pathogens

Environmental services managers must be confident they are using a disinfectant that can eliminate a pathogenic virus on a surface.

By J. Darrel Hicks, Contributing Writer

For years, public health experts warned of the possibility of an illness spreading across the globe and killing millions. After all, it had happened before. Now, in addition to worrying about a virus that might jump from animals to humans, experts are concerned about research accidents and what should be unthinkable – the possibility of someone intentionally unleashing a highly contagious and lethal pathogen. 

Global viral threats can be airborne or waterborne, but I want to focus on surface contamination. Viruses are even smaller than bacteria, and they can be enveloped, large nonenveloped or small nonenveloped.  

Hospital leaders in infection prevention and environmental services are expected to rapidly respond to a global viral threat, so they must be confident they are using a disinfectant that can eliminate a pathogenic virus on a surface. We don’t need to wait for the Centers for Disease control and Prevention or the U.S. Enviornmental Protection Agency (EPA) to approve a manufacturer’s claims to eradicate viral pathogen of concern. 

Spotlight on EVP 

When rare or novel viruses cause outbreaks of disease, there might be few if any disinfectants that have been tested and registered for use against that specific pathogen. To prepare for situations like these, EPA created the emerging viral pathogen (EVP) guidance, a voluntary process that allows disinfectant manufacturers to submit data to the EPA demonstrating a product’s efficacy against difficult-to-inactivate viruses. 

In the event of an outbreak that meets certain criteria, EPA triggers the EVP guidance for a specific virus. In doing so, it authorizes companies with product EVP claims to make statements on their websites, social media and technical literature about their product’s expected efficacy against the emerging virus. 

How to Choose a Product 

Some viruses are more difficult to kill than others, and a disinfectant’s effectiveness can change based on how you use it. Environmental services managers can follow these steps to ensure they choose an appropriate product and use it effectively. 

Managers need to determine which disinfectants are expected to be effective against the virus to inactivate. The EVP guidance divides viruses into three categories: 

  • Tier 1: Enveloped viruses are the easiest to inactivate. When disinfectants damage their lipid envelope, the virus is no longer infectious. 
  • Tier 2: Large, nonenveloped viruses are encased in protein capsids that make them more difficult to inactivate compared to enveloped viruses. 
  • Tier 3: Small, nonenveloped viruses are the hardest to inactivate. Their protein capsids and their small size make them less vulnerable to disinfectants compared to other viruses. 

To find disinfectants for use against the emerging virus to kill, managers need to know which category that virus falls into. The EVP guidance applies to all three tiers of viruses. As of this date, there are 511 disinfectants on List Q. 

In my professional opinion, managers should choose a disinfectant from the Tier 3 category that has a contact time of less than 4 minutes and is non-toxic and non-corrosive. By choosing a Tier 3 disinfectant, managers can be confident it will also kill viruses from tiers 1 and 2. 

J. Darrel Hicks, BA, MESRE, CHESP, Certificate of Mastery in Infection Prevention, is the past president of the Healthcare Surfaces Institute. Hicks is nationally recognized as a subject matter expert in infection prevention and control as it relates to cleaning. He is the owner and principal of Safe, Clean and Disinfected. His enterprise specializes in B2B consulting, webinar presentations, seminars and facility consulting services related to cleaning and disinfection. He can be reached at, or learn more at 

September 20, 2023

Topic Area: Infection Control

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