A specially developed UV light could be used in offices and public places to kill the airborne flu virus.
Scientists at the Columbia University Medical Center found that short pulses of far ultraviolet C light could be utilised as a means of preventing flu from spreading around offices or even public areas like train stations.
With UVC lights costing less than $1000 they are relatively inexpensive for workplaces and if enough were produced the cost would of course fall.
“And unlike flu vaccines, far-UVC is likely to be effective against all airborne microbes, even newly emerging strains.” explains study leader David J. Brenner, PhD, the Higgins Professor of Radiation Biophysics Professor of Environmental Health Sciences.
We’ve known for decades that UVC light is capable of killing bacteria and viruses by breaking down the molecular bonds that hold them together. This light is used in concentrated doses to sterilise medical equipment in operating theatres.
“Unfortunately, conventional germicidal UV light is also a human health hazard and can lead to skin cancer and cataracts, which prevents its use in public spaces,” explains Brenner.
Despite this clear hurdle, the team at Columbia theorised that a narrow spectrum of ultraviolet light known as far-UVC could still present us with a solution.
“Far-UVC light has a very limited range and cannot penetrate through the outer dead-cell layer of human skin or the tear layer in the eye, so it’s not a human health hazard. But because viruses and bacteria are much smaller than human cells, far-UVC light can reach their DNA and kill them,” said Brenner.
In early studies the team found that their far-UVC light was capable of killing the MRSA bacteria without harming human skin. Following on from that the team then wanted to see if they could kill the flu virus in its most common form -spreading through the air in tiny droplets.
The results of the test found that when compared to a room that wasn’t exposed by the light, the flu virus was completely inactivated.