According to a new study in Scientific Reports, scientists have come up with a UV light that kills the influenza virus and is also safe for human contact. Current UV devices are often used for sterilization in medical settings but prolonged exposure can cause skin cancer and other problems.
A team at the Center for Radiological Research at Columbia University Irving Medical Center found a potential solution by using something known as far-UVC light instead:
“We wanted to get all the benefits of UV light in terms of killing microbes, but none of the health hazards,” says Brenner. Earlier studies, on animals and humans, have shown that exposure to far-UVC light does indeed appear to be safe. “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,” he says. Previous research has also shown that far-UVC light can kill MRSA bacteria, a common cause of infections after surgery.
The study shows that the light “inactivated the viruses with about the same efficiency as conventional germicidal UV light…” This type of light could be effective for numerous public settings where the flu and other viruses could quickly spread.
Now, the team hopes to develop commercially available lamps that will kill viruses in public places. Note that this is not an excuse to not practice good hand-washing habits.
There were signs this year was going to be a worse than normal flu season based on the severity of the flu in Australia. Generally, the Northern Hemisphere gets a similar flu season to the Southern Hemisphere. So far, the flu is widespread in 46 U.S. states. The flu vaccine each year is basically just a “best guess” concoction at what the most prevalent strain will be. Sometimes, like this year, it’s not a great match. Anyway, you should still get a flu shot.
You still have time!
In California, “so many people have fallen sick with influenza…that pharmacies have run out of flu medicines, emergency rooms are packed, and the death toll is rising higher than in previous years.” The predominant influenza strain this year is H3N2, which is both particularly virulent and which the vaccine does not work well against:
National health officials say the vaccine might only be about 32% effective this year, which could be contributing to the high number of people falling ill.
“It tends to cause more deaths and more hospitalizations than the other strains,” said Dr. Jeffrey Gunzenhauser, L.A. County’s interim health officer.
Of extra concern this year are large numbers of older patients who are showing up at hospitals with the flu and pneumonia, a potentially fatal combination.
Additionally, “27 people younger than 65 have died of the flu in California since October, compared with three at the same time last year,” adding evidence that this flu season is unusually dangerous. All I, and the CDC, can really recommend is that you obsessively wash your hands and get a flu shot. Eat oranges. Get some fresh air. Those last two are my personal recommendations.