As the 2018 influenza outbreak rages across the country, killing as many as 4,000 Americans per week, the Columbia University Irving Medical Center (CUIMC) may have found a way to very simply halt the virus’ spread.
Researchers at the university have found that far ultraviolet C light (far-UVC) is lethal to the flu, while not being harmful to human tissue. If confirmed, this could severely diminish people’s exposure to the flu in public places.
Scientists are taking things slow, though. After all, broad-spectrum UV light has all sorts of negative consequences on the human body—including the risk of skin cancer. But far-UVC “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,” said study leader David J. Brenner in a media release.
The study, which was published in Scientific Reports, notes that because viruses and bacteria are smaller than human cells, far-UVC light can reach and kill them.
There is a price hurdle, though, with far-UVC lights— they currently cost about $1,000 each. Public places like schools, airports, convention centers, and doctors offices might balk at paying such a high price. However, Brenner notes, should production of the lights ramp up, costs will drop. And, as an added incentive, he says, the lights are likely to be notably more effective than the annual flu shot.
“Unlike flu vaccines, far-UVC is likely to be effective against all airborne microbes, even newly emerging strains,” he says.