It’s the light fantastic — one that fights the flu.
Researchers at Columbia University Medical Center are developing far-UVC — a special type of ultraviolet light — that could be used in public places and offices to kill the airborne influenza virus and stop the spread in its tracks.
Scientists know that broad-spectrum UVC is a potent germicide. It kills bacteria and viruses by breaking down their molecular bonds and is used to decontaminate surgical equipment.
“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,” said lead author David J. Brenner.
“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,” said Brenner. “But because viruses and bacteria are much smaller than human cells, far-UVC light can reach their DNA and kill them.”
In previous studies, Brenner and his fellow researchers found that far-UVC killed the MRSA super bug bacteria without harming human skin. The new research, conducted in a test chamber similar to a public setting, showed that far-UVC light effectively killed flu virus in the air, which is the main way the disease spreads.
“If our results are confirmed in other settings,” said Brenner, “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.”
With the 2018 flu raging, the research is timely. “And unlike flu vaccines,” said Brenner, “far-UVC is likely to be effective against all airborne microbes, even newly emerging strains.”