New Tool May Help Combat the Spread of Flu, Say Researchers

Far-UVC light efficiently inactivated the flu viruses
Far-UVC light efficiently inactivated the flu viruses

Airborne flu viruses may be safely and effectively eradicated with continuous low doses of far ultraviolet C (far-UVC) light, according to a new study published in Scientific Reports.

Broad-spectrum UVC light (200–400nm wavelength) is highly effective in killing bacteria and viruses by targeting the molecular DNA bonds. However, conventional UV light is harmful in humans and can cause skin cancer and cataracts. 

Lead author, David J. Brenner, PhD, and his colleagues from the Center for Radiological Research at Columbia University Irving Medical Center hypothesized that a narrow spectrum of UV light (far-UVC) could potentially destroy microbes without harming healthy tissue. Previously, his team demonstrated that far-UVC light (207–222nm) effectively killed methicillin-resistant S. aureus (MRSA) bacteria without damaging human or murine skin. 

In this new study, Dr. Brenner and colleagues evaluated whether far-UVC light could effectively kill aerosolized influenza virus in a public-like area. They released aerosolized H1N1 virus into a test chamber and exposed it to very low doses (2mJ/cm2) of 222nm far-UVC light and compared it against a group of aerosolized virus not exposed to the far-UVC light (control). 

The researchers observed that the far-UVC light efficiently inactivated the flu viruses; the effect was similar in efficiency to conventional germicidal UV light. 

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"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 Dr. Brenner. "And unlike flu vaccines, far-UVC is likely to be effective against all airborne microbes, even newly emerging strains."

If similar results are confirmed in other scenarios, the researchers believe this approach may help limit seasonal influenza epidemics, as the far-UVC light could be used in places such as hospitals, doctor's offices, schools, and airplanes.

For more information visit nature.com.