A 3-D image of a flu virus.
Experiments prove low doses of far ultraviolet C light, or far-UVC light, can wipe out airborne flu virus without harming humans. The lights could hypothetically be installed in hospitals, schools and offices to stop the spread of the flu. "It follows that the use of overhead low-level far-UVC light in public locations would be a safe and efficient method for limiting the transmission and spread of airborne-mediated microbial diseases, such as influenza and tuberculosis". It is for this reason that UV devices are frequently used to sterilize things like medical equipment or drinking water outdoors, TIME reports.
Quite a long while back, Brenner and his partners conjectured that a limited range of bright light called far-UVC could murder microorganisms without harming solid tissue. However, conventional UV light is harmful in humans and can cause skin cancer and cataracts. When the researchers exposed skin cells to the airborne flu viruses that were treated with far-UVC light, the viruses were not able to infect the skin cells.
Flu infection spreads from individual to individual basically through fine fluid beads, or pressurized canned products, that end up noticeably airborne when individuals with influenza hack, sniffle, or talk. The light inactivated the viruses with about the same efficiency as conventional germicidal UV light, while a control group of bacteria not exposed to light remained active.
In the new study, the researchers released aerosolized particles of the H1N1 flu virus into a test chamber, which was created to simulate human coughing and breathing. The researchers suspected that it can penetrate and destroy microscopic bacteria and viruses, but can't travel through the protective outer layers of human skin or eyes.
In test chambers, scientists found 222 nanometer far-UVC light was just as effective as broad spectrum UV light at killing and deactivating the aerosolized influenza virus.
At a price of less than $1,000 per lamp-a cost that would surely decrease if the lamps were mass produced-far-UVC lights are relatively affordable. Previously, his team demonstrated that far-UVC light (207-222nm) effectively killed methicillin-resistant S. aureus (MRSA) bacteria without damaging human or murine skin.
"And unlike flu vaccines, far-UVC is likely to be effective against all airborne microbes, even newly emerging strains", he said. Earlier studies, on animals and humans, have shown that exposure to far-UVC light does indeed appear to be safe. The other contributors are David Welch, Manuela Buonanno, Veljko Grilj, Igor Shuryak, Connor Crickmore, Alan Bigelow, Gerhard Randers-Pehrson, and Gary Johnson (all at CUIMC). This could allow the tool to be utilized in far more places than UV lights are now being employed, leading to potentially wide sweeping impacts toward diminishing the spread of many infectious diseases.