Special UV light safely kills airborne flu virus, finds study

February 9, 2018, Columbia University Medical Center
A 3-D image of a flu virus. Credit: Center for Disease Control

Continuous low doses of far ultraviolet C (far-UVC) light can kill airborne flu viruses without harming human tissues, according to a new study at the Center for Radiological Research at Columbia University Irving Medical Center (CUIMC). The findings suggest that use of overhead far-UVC light in hospitals, doctors' offices, schools, airports, airplanes, and other public spaces could provide a powerful check on seasonal influenza epidemics, as well as influenza pandemics.

The study was published online today in Scientific Reports.

Scientists have known for decades that broad-spectrum UVC , which has a wavelength of between 200 to 400 nanometers, or nm), is highly effective at killing bacteria and viruses by destroying the molecular bonds that hold their DNA together. This conventional UV light is routinely 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 study leader David J. Brenner, PhD, the Higgins Professor of Radiation Biophysics Professor of Environmental Health Sciences and director of the Center for Radiological Research at CUIMC.

Several years ago, Dr. Brenner and his colleagues hypothesized that a narrow spectrum of ultraviolet light called far-UVC could kill microbes without damaging healthy tissue. "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," he said.

In their earlier studies, Dr. Brenner's team demonstrated that far-UVC light was effective at killing MRSA (methicillin-resistant S. aureus) bacteria, a common cause of surgical wound infections, but without harming human or mouse skin.

Influenza spreads from person to person mainly through fine liquid droplets, or aerosols, that become airborne when people with flu cough, sneeze, or talk. The new study was designed to test if far-UVC light could efficiently kill aerosolized influenza virus in the air, in a setting similar to a public space. In the study, aerosolized H1N1 virus—a common strain of flu virus—was released into a test chamber and exposed to very low doses of 222 nm far-UVC light. A control group of aerosolized virus was not exposed to the UVC light. The far-UVC light efficiently inactivated the flu viruses, with about the same efficiency as conventional germicidal UV light.

"If our results are confirmed in other settings, 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," said Dr. Brenner.

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

The study is titled, "Far-UVC light: A new tool to control the spread of airborne-mediated microbial diseases." 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).

Explore further: Narrow wavelength of UV light safely kills drug-resistant bacteria

More information: David Welch et al, Far-UVC light: A new tool to control the spread of airborne-mediated microbial diseases, Scientific Reports (2018). DOI: 10.1038/s41598-018-21058-w

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6 comments

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dogbert
not rated yet Feb 09, 2018
Having another method of killing pathogenic organisms is important, but I think we need to consider that broad spectrum germicides have an unwanted side effect -- they do destroy pathogenic organisms but they also destroy beneficial organisms.
gzurbay
not rated yet Feb 09, 2018
UV is useful for destroying pathogenic microbes, - beneficial organisms are likely more numerous and likely to replenish - the trade off is fairly obvious.
rrwillsj
3.7 / 5 (3) Feb 09, 2018
Considering all the mythinformation and outright fraudulent claims against accepting immunizations? This Far-UVC light, if widely adopted, would be an important step forward in Public Health protection.

Once there is popular acceptance of this method, it will be important to certify these products. You can bet every corrupt manufacturer and swindling huckster will be offering useless or even dangerously fake lights to the unsuspecting public.
JRi
not rated yet Feb 10, 2018
I could see benefits of these light also in food industry.
tekram
not rated yet Feb 11, 2018
'At a price of less than $1,000 per lamp...'
UVC 254nm lamps are already commonly used as sterilizers and the cost is minimal:
for example $8.35 shipped 2 PCS Replacement UV Light Bulbs 9W Watt G23 Base for Aquarium UVC Sterilizer. ...*WARNING:
UV-C LIGHT has an intense burning effect on human skin and can quickly damage your eyes. Do not expose your skin or eyes to an unprotected UV-C light.

'Automated mobile ultraviolet light devices that continuously emit UV-C in the range of 254 nm can be placed in patient rooms after patient discharge and terminal cleaning has been performed. A number of these devices can be set to kill vegetative bacteria or to kill spores. These systems often reduce the VRE and MRSA by four or more log10, and C. difficile by 1–3 log10' https://www.ncbi....4827199/
dogbert
not rated yet Feb 12, 2018
tekram,
The article suggests using UVC continuously in human occupied areas stating that it is not harmful to human beings. Your post indicates that such lights can cause severe harm to humans.

It has been known for years that UV light is useful for killing pathogens. If UVC light is harmful to humans, then the light is no better for killing pathogens than standard UV lights.

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