In BriefThe flu has taken thousands of lives already this year and continues to tear through the United States. However, researchers have recently shown that a specialized form of UV light could kill flu viruses without harming human tissues.
In a new study from the Columbia University Irving Medical Center (CUIMC), researchers reveal that far ultraviolet C (far-UVC) light can kill flu viruses without negatively affecting human tissues. The researchers suggest that implementing this far-UVC light in places like hospitals, airports, and schools could greatly reduce the incidence of flu infections.
It is not new information that broad-spectrum UVC light has the power to kill bacteria and viruses by breaking molecular bonds — in fact, it is routinely used to sterilize surgical equipment. “Unfortunately,” study leader David J. Brenner, director of the Center for Radiological Research at CUIMC, said in a press release, “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.”
So placing broad-spectrum UV lights in school hallways would have disastrous effects. But this study didn’t use broad-spectrum UV light — it used far-UVC light, a narrow spectrum of radiation. This type of UV is also effective against illnesses and “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,” Brenner said in the press release.
A Deadly Flu
This year has brought with it an especially deadly flu season in the United States. It is projected to be more deadly than the Swine Flu of 2009-2010, killing about 4,000 people a week. According to Anne Schuchat, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s acting director, in an interview with Fortune, “We have a lot to learn still about influenza.”
But, while researchers continue to work tirelessly to better understand the illness, perhaps more effective and accessible treatments could be developed. Though this study indicates that very low doses of far-UVC light can inactivate flu viruses, the results still need to be replicated and explored in a variety of settings.
However, if it is confirmed that this type of light can kill flu viruses without causing any human harm, it could be a powerful tool. Overhead lights in medical facilities, public spaces, and even homes could effectively eradicate exposed viruses, preventing them from spreading and infecting new victims.
Perhaps, in the future, saving thousands of lives could be as simple as switching out a bulb.