Findings of a new study, however, offer hope for a new tool to combat flu outbreaks in the future.
Broad-spectrum UVC Light
Scientists have long known that broad-spectrum UVC light is very effective at killing viruses and bacteria. This UV light, which works by destroying the molecular bonds holding DNA together, is used for decontaminating surgical equipment.
Unfortunately, it poses health hazards and exposure can lead to cataracts and cancer, which make it not fit for use in public places.
In a new study, David Brenner, from Columbia University Center for Radiological Research, and colleagues found that continuous low doses of far ultraviolet C (far-UVC) light may kill airborne flu viruses sans the similar risk posed by broad-spectrum UVC light on human tissues.
Brenner explained that far-UVC light has very limited range. It is not capable of penetrating through the outer layer of the skin or the eye's tear layer so it does not pose a health hazard. Pathogens, however, are far smaller so far-UVC light can penetrate their DNA and kill them.
In their study, which was published in the journal Scientific Reports, Brenner and his team simulated how the H1N1 flu virus is spread through coughing and breathing in a test chamber.
The researchers then applied low doses of far-UVC light. They found that the light inactivated more than 95 percent of the flu virus particles but it did not infect the skin cells exposed to the airborne flu viruses.
Far-UVC Light In Public Places May Help Combat Spread Of Flu Virus
The findings suggest that use of overhead far-UVC light in public places such as in schools airports, hospitals, and doctors' offices may help combat the spread of flu virus. They also offer hope that one day, light may be used in public places to limit the transmission of diseases.
"This approach may help limit seasonal influenza epidemics, transmission of tuberculosis, as well as major pandemics," the researchers wrote in their study.
What makes this approach better than using a vaccine, according to the researchers, is that it is likely effective against all airborne pathogens.
The price of a lamp is estimated to be less than $1,000 but the researchers think the cost would decrease once the lamps are mass produced.