UV lights in public spaces could kill airborne flu viruses on the spot
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Can ultraviolet (UV) lights in offices and public places be used to stop and kill influenza viruses floating in the air? Quite possibly, yes, say scientists at the Center for Radiological Research at Columbia University Irving Medical Center.
For decades, scientists have known that some ultraviolet light wavelengths can effectively kill bacteria and viruses by destroying the molecular bonds that connect them. This type of treatment with UV light is widely used for decontamination of surgical equipment. Unfortunately, it can not be used in public places because it is a health risk that can lead to both skin cancer and cataracts. Fortunately, discussing this problem could have been discovered by Columbia scientists – and it's about a kind of ultraviolet light, called distant ultraviolet C, also known as far away UVC.
"We use a particular type of ultraviolet light to selectively destroy viruses and bacteria while being safe for humans," said David Welch, a research fellow at Columbia, in an interview with Digital Trends. "The physical basis of this lies in the limited penetration depth of the distant UVC – it can damage viruses and bacteria that are very small, while it is unable to penetrate and cause damage to human cells that are much larger." Far-UVC differs from conventional UVC lamps that are dangerous because these wavelengths penetrate much further. "
In the study, the researchers showed that far-UVC light can inactivate viruses in the form of an aerosol, such as the popular H1N1 influenza strain using very small doses of light. The experiment consisted of releasing H1N1 into the test chamber and subjecting it to low doses of distant UVC light, and then comparing it to a chamber that was not exposed to far UVC light. In the chamber exposed to light, influenza viruses have disappeared with the same efficiency as conventional bactericidal UV lamps. What makes this exciting fact is that lamps with such distant UVC rays cost less than 1000 USD per lamp – and these costs will undoubtedly drop significantly if they were mass-produced. In other words, this technology could be made available to the masses.
"Our next steps are the continuation of our security tests," Welch continued. "Up to now, we've mainly analyzed short-term endpoints to determine damage, and all showed that UVC is safe in the distant future. Future tests will prolong it to study the impact of exposure over a longer period of time."
The article describing the work was recently published in the journal Scientific Reports.
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