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This UV Lamp Could Prevent the Flu Virus From Spreading in Public Places

From TIME - February 9, 2018

Researchers have developed an ultraviolet (UV) lamp that kills the influenza virus but isnt harmful to human skin or eyes, according to a new study in Scientific Reports. They hope the technology can be commercialized and marketed to prevent the spread of seasonal flu in public places, such as schools, hospitals, and airports.

Weve known for a century that UV light is extremely efficient at killing microbes, bacteria, and viruses, says study leader David Brenner, director of the Center for Radiological Research at Columbia University Irving Medical Center. For that reason, UV devices are often used for sterilizationfor medical equipment in hospitals, for example, or drinking water for backcountry campers.

But conventional germicidal lamps arent safe for humans to be around. With prolonged exposure, they can cause skin cancer and cataracts in the eyes. So up until now, theyre only really practical when people arent around, say Brenner. You can sterilize a hospital room, but not when anyones inside.

About five years ago, Brenner says, the Columbia team came up with a potential solution. Light on the far end of the UV-C spectrum, known as far-UVC, has very short wavelengths. The researchers suspected that it can penetrate and destroy microscopic bacteria and viruses, but cant travel through 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, says Brenner. Earlier studies, on animals and humans, have shown that exposure to far-UVC light does indeed appear to be safe. We havent seen any biological damage to skin cells or eye cells, whereas with conventional UV light weve always seen lots of biological damage, he says. Previous research has also shown that far-UVC light can kill MRSA bacteria, a common cause of infections after surgery.

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