UV Lamps May Soon Make Our Buses and Trains Completely Germ Free
Researchers at the University of Columbia want to stop the spread of viruses and bacteria in the air with a special Ultraviolet C (far-UVC) light. This can potentially make our buses, public toilets, and trains completely germ-free.
Public spaces such as subways, suburban trains, schools, or waiting rooms are breading grounds for germs that - especially in the fall and winter - contribute enormously to the spread of influenza and other types of viruses. Like many other illnesses, the flu is transmitted via droplet infections. That is, when talking, coughing, and sneezing infected individuals spray tiny droplets into common airspace, putting those around them at risk.
For a long time, scientists have been looking for ways to keep the air in public spaces "germ-free" - without endangering people with harmful chemicals.
Researchers at the University of Columbia in New York may have succeeded in doing so. They suggest installing lamps that emit UV light at a certain wavelength in public spaces, because this light (invisible to the human eye) kills viruses and bacteria, but causes no harm humans.
UV light - a proven disinfectant
Ultraviolet light has long been used for disinfecting medical instruments. Similar lights are also available for storage rooms in hospitals and in food production. However, they are not suitable for permanent irradiation in rooms with people - because the intense UV radiation can cause sunburn or conjunctivitis, and drastically increases the risk of skin cancer.
A few years ago, a team led by David J. Brenner at Columbia University had the idea to use a very weak wavelength of UV light for disinfection - the so-called far-UVC light. "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 Brenner in a university statement, who is also a professor of environmental health sciences at Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health.
Here is an illustration of how UV lights will work.
In previous studies, the team was able to show that far-UVC light kills multi drug-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (a bacteria that can trigger wound infections after surgery), but does not harm the skin of humans nor mice.
UVC light kills influenza viruses
In their most recent study, the researchers investigated whether light can also stop the transmission of airborne influenza. To do so, they "dumped" influenza-causing bacteria into a test chamber and exposed it to very low doses of far-UVC light (222 nanometers). In another chamber, a "control group" of viruses was allowed to spread without being exposed to UV light.
The result? The low-dose far-UVC light killed the viruses just as effectively as germicidal lamps with intense UV radiation. In the test chamber without irradiation, no such effect was observed.
“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,” Brenner said.
How can I protect myself from viruses?
UV lamps with the wavelength range defined by the researchers are not yet available for household use. For now, they have been ruled out as a safe disinfectant in home bathrooms and kitchens.
Each UV Lamp will cost about $1,000 (USD). If this new product is successful, there will be no need for flu vaccinations. Brenner says that unlike flu vaccines, these UV Lamps will be far more effective.
Until then, we will have to rely on the traditional methods to protect us from viruses and bacteria.
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