Scientists Create UV Lamp That Could Kill Flu Germs In Public Places

Lorenzo Tanos

With many parts of the United States dealing with a crippling flu epidemic, researchers have come up with an ultraviolet lamp that is capable of killing the influenza virus, with the potential of preventing the disease from spreading in hospitals, schools, and other public places.

Ultraviolet light has long been recognized as an effective tool against harmful, disease-causing agents, and to this end, UV has often been used for sterilizing items such as medical equipment in hospitals, according to a report from Time. Unfortunately, standard UV lamps for combating germs carry several risks, including the possibility of skin cancer and cataracts due to extended exposure. That's what inspired the researchers, who published their findings this week in the journal Scientific Reports, to devise a safer alternative to these germicidal lamps.

The secret to the new UV lamp's ability to safely combat the flu virus is their use of far-UVC, the light found on the UV-C spectrum's far end. The researchers observed that this form of light has the potential of destroying bacteria and viruses without the risk of traveling through human skin's protective layers, or damaging one's eyesight, due to the fact that far-UVC has unusually short wavelengths.

"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," said lead author David Brenner, director of the Columbia University Irving Medical Center's radiological research department.

According to the New York Daily News, this isn't the first study where Brenner and his colleagues used far-UVC light to kill a virus without posing any untoward risks. Previously, Brenner's team discovered that the light could kill the MRSA superbug safely, while avoiding the known risks of other UV lamps. With the ongoing flu epidemic in mind, the researchers conducted a test that mimicked public settings, and found that far-UVC light was just as effective as standard germicidal UV light in killing airborne particles of the H1N1 influenza strain.

"We think that this type of overhead light could be efficacious for basically any public setting," Brenner commented.

"Think about doctor's waiting rooms, schools, airports and airplanes — any place where there's a likelihood for airborne viruses."

Speaking to Time, Brenner said that the lamp his team is using costs under $1,000, but added that his team is working closely with an unnamed firm to create a commercial version that would ideally cost much less. He isn't sure when these lamps would be ready for commercial use, but expressed confidence that his lamps will soon stand out as the first device that could kill airborne virus in public places.