A specific wavelength of ultraviolet (UV) light is not only extremely effective at killing the virus which causes COVID-19, but is also safer for use in public spaces, finds new CU Boulder research.
The study, published in Applied and Environmental Microbiology, is the first to comprehensively analyze the effects of different wavelengths of UV light on SARS-CoV-2 and other respiratory viruses, including the only wavelength safer for living beings to be exposed to without protection.
The findings, which the authors refer to as a “game changer” for UV light use, could lead to new affordable, safe and highly effective systems for reducing viral spread in crowded public spaces like airports and concert venues.
“Of almost every pathogen we have ever studied, this virus is one of the easiest, by far, to kill with UV light,” said senior author Karl Linden, professor of environmental engineering. “It takes a very low dose. This indicates that UV technology could be a really good solution for protecting public spaces.”
For the study, Linden and his team compared different UV wavelengths side-by-side using standardized methods developed across the UV light industry.
“We thought, let’s come together and make a definitive statement on what UV exposure is required to kill off SARS-CoV-2,” said Linden. “We wanted to make sure that if UV light is being used to control disease, you’re delivering the right dose that’s protective of human health and human skin, but also going to be killing off these pathogens.”
The opportunity to do this kind of work is rare, as there are extremely rigorous safety standards required to work with SARS-CoV-2. So Linden and Ben Ma, postdoctoral researcher in Linden’s research group, collaborated with virologist Charles Gerba at the University of Arizona, at a lab cleared to work with the virus and its variants.
The researchers found that while the virus was quite susceptible to UV light in general, a specific wavelength of Far ultraviolet-C, at 222 nanometers, was particularly effective. Created by what’s known as a krypton chloride excimer lamp, fueled by molecules moving between different states of energy, this wavelength is very high energy. Therefore, it’s able to inflict greater viral protein and nucleic acid damage to the virus compared to other UV-C devices, as well as be blocked by the very top layers of human skin and eyes—meaning that it has limited to no detrimental health effects at doses that are capable of killing off viruses.
“Not only is it safe, it’s also the most effective,” said Linden.
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