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How Can Light Kill Viruses?

Other Ways to Combat Viruses

virus-light
Streptococcus pyogenes bacteria, atop the surface of a human white blood cell. Public Health Image Library, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CCO)

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While many efforts to stop viruses have yet to pass beyond laboratory trials, UV irradiation has already found its way into many real world applications. UV irradiation works by bombarding viruses with ultraviolet light, the same light that causes humans to develop sunburns and skin cancer.

Like the laser technique, UV irradiation kills viruses by breaking down their cell walls. Some ventilation and water-purification systems make use of UV irradiation to eliminate airborne or waterborne pathogens. Researchers have successfully used UV irradiation to kill foodborne pathogens, like E. coli bacteria, without diminishing taste or food quality. But while UV irradiation can be effective, it can also cause viruses to mutate and has the potential to damage healthy cells (as anyone who's suffered a sunburn can attest).

In March 2020, BBC News reported on the use of robots armed with bulbs that emit concentrated short-wavelength ultraviolet (UV-C) light to disinfect hospitals and reduce the chance of patients contracting infections there. There was hope that the technology would work against coronavirus, although there hadn't yet been testing to prove whether it would, according to BBC.

Researchers also have explored using microwaves to destroy viruses, but the technique has so far proved ineffective. The water surrounding viruses absorbs the energy from microwaves. The virus doesn't receive enough microwave energy to be affected, much less destroyed.

In July 2018, researchers at North Carolina State University published a paper in the journal ACS Publications, in which they described a new technique for adding light-sensitive molecules to plastics. When exposed to light, the molecules reportedly have the ability to poke holes in viruses and bacteria and render them harmless, according to an account of the research on the Alliance of Advanced BioMedical Engineering website.

For more information about viruses and related topics, please check out the links below.

Last editorial update on Apr 2, 2020 02:25:38 pm.

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Sources

  • "UV Irradiation Dosage Table." American Air & Water. http://www.americanairandwater.com/uv-facts/uv-dosage.htm
  • Cook, John. "HaloSource of Bothell lands $15 million." Seattle P-I. July 27, 2007. http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/business/325433_halosource28.html
  • Dumé, Belle. "Visible light pulses knock out viruses in blood." NewScientist. July 27, 2007. (April 1, 2020) https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn12368-visible-light-pulses-knock-out-viruses-in-blood/
  • Harris, Jaida. "Suntans are bad for bacteria too! Exposure to UV irradiation kills off harmful bacteria in food." Innovations Report. Dec. 15, 2003. http://www.innovations-report.com/html/reports/agricultural_sciences/report-24228.html
  • Khazeni, Nayer. "Chasing the Elusive Cold." San Francisco Chronicle. July 29, 2007. http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2007/07/29/CM2FR5JOT2.DTL
  • Tibbetts, John. "Special Surface Coating Can Kill Most Bacteria and Viruses on Contact." Alliance of Advanced BioMedical Engineering. Nov. 18, 2018. (April 1, 2020) https://aabme.asme.org/posts/special-surface-coating-can-kill-most-bacteria-and-viruses-on-contact
  • Murray, Adrienne. "Coronavirus: Robots use light beams to zap hospital viruses. " BBC News. March 20, 2020. (April 1, 2020) https://www.bbc.com/news/business-51914722

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