Researchers have invented an ultraviolet lamp that can kill the influenza virus, but won’t harm human skin or eyes, a new study says. The hope is that this technology can be commercialized and distributed publicly in order to stem the seasonal flu that spreads in places like airports, schools and hospitals.
David Brenner, director of the Center for Radiological Research at Columbia University Irving Medical Center, study author, said, “We’ve known for a century that UV light is extremely efficient at killing microbes, bacteria, and viruses.” It is for this reason that UV devices are frequently used to sterilize things like medical equipment or drinking water outdoors, TIME reports.
However, germicidal lamps are not safe for humans, as prolonged exposure can cause skin cancer and cataracts. Brenner said, “So up until now, they’re only really practical when people aren’t around. You can sterilize a hospital room, but not when anyone’s inside.”
Five years ago, the team from Columbia came up with a possible solution in the form of far-UVC. This light at the far end of the UV-C spectrum has short wavelengths, which the researches believed could destroy microscopic bacteria and viruses without penetrating the protective outer layers of human skin or eyes.
We wanted to get all the benefits of UV light in terms of killing microbes, but none of the health hazards,
said Brenner. So far, studies on humans and animals have shown that UVC exposure appears to be safe. ““We haven’t seen any biological damage to skin cells or eye cells, whereas with conventional UV light we’ve always seen lots of biological damage,” Brenner said.
Brenner and colleagues have shown that UVC light can effectively kill influenza in the air. He explained, “We think that this type of overhead light could be efficacious for basically any public setting. Think about doctor’s waiting rooms, schools, airports and airplanes—any place where there’s a likelihood for airborne viruses.” This could even be effective for new emerging virus strains.
The team is “extremely optimistic” about this technology as “this is an approach that may solve that problem.”
The study was published in Scientific Reports.