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The influenza virus continues to overwhelm medical experts in the United States with the numerous number of infected and death cases. There is one patient among many who is currently on life support after contracting the virus. As a response, a team researchers developed a tool that can kill influenza virus in the air.
Crystal Whitley, a special education teacher at Mullin, received a vaccine for flu in October 2017 after giving birth to her son. But, she contracted the both H3N2 and H1N1 influenza strains two weeks ago. She developed pneumonia and also contracted MRSA, methicillin-resistance Staphylococcus aureus bacteria that is resistant to many classes of antibiotics. The two viral strains and health complications from the infections put her on life support.
"She's making all of this progress, but [doctors] keep telling us she is still very ill. She is still critical, and she is still on life support. "I asked them yesterday, and I said, 'I know you don't know for sure, but what are we looking at?' They said, 'It's probably going to be months,'" said Mary O’Connor, Whitley’s mother.
Influenza vaccine is one of the preventive measures against the infection that is adjusted each year to match the rapid changes of the virus. However, the vaccine is not reliable in providing full protection. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the vaccine is estimated to be almost 30 percent effective against the H3 viral strain this year, which puts the current hospitalization rate of the infection in the US to about 22.7 people per 100,000 people.
“We’re at the peak of it now, and we’ll probably see it go below the baseline in several months. So, yes, [we’re] definitely in an epidemic, but that happens every year in the United States and in the Northern Hemisphere with influenza,” said Dr. Dan Jernigan, Director of the Influenza Division at CDC.
At the Center for Radiological Research at Columbia University Irving Medical Center, researchers developed a special UV light that can kill viruses in the air without damaging human tissues. It may be installed in various places, such as hospitals, airports, schools, and other public areas where pathogens like the common cold and influenza can be spread quickly.
For several years, scientists have known that broad-spectrum ultraviolet C can kill microbes. It has a wavelength of between 200 to 400 nanometers that is very effective at destroying both bacteria and viruses. The destructive power of UVC works by obliterating the molecular bonds of the pathogens that hold their DNA together, which makes it a routine decontaminant of surgical tools. However, it can harm the human tissues.
“Unfortunately, conventional germicidal UV light is also a human health hazard and can lead to skin cancer and cataracts, which prevents its use in public spaces,” Dr. David J. Brenner, the study leader and director of the Center for Radiological Research at Columbia.
Several years ago, Dr. Brenner and his colleagues speculated that the far-UVC, a narrow spectrum of UV light that could destroy microbes, can do so without harming human tissues. Far-UVC has a limited range compared to the standard variant. The limited range kills bacteria and viruses, but cannot penetrate the skin or tear through the layer in the eye. The special UVC can reach the pathogens because they are smaller than human cells.
Dr. Brenner and his colleagues already proved that far-UVC light can kill MRSA bacteria in previous studies. In the new study, they tested the killing power of far-UVC on aerosolized influenza virus in the air, which occurs when an infected person sneezes or coughs. They released the aerosolized H1N1 virus in the testing chamber and exposed it to 222 nm dosage of the special UV light. The far-UVC light destroyed the inactivated flu viruses with issues and the efficiency is about the same with germicidal UV light.
“If our results are confirmed in other settings, it follows that the use of overhead low-level far-UVC light in public locations would be a safe and efficient method for limiting the transmission and spread of airborne-mediated microbial diseases, such as influenza and tuberculosis,” said Dr. Brennen.
The special UV light is a promising reinforcement to current preventive measures, such as vaccines, in killing pathogenic agents. It is possible for the far-UVC light to kill airborne bacteria and viruses regardless of the strain.
Microbe-killing lights are currently being explored by scientists. One study conducted by researchers at Arizona State University and Johns Hopkins University showed how a laser can kill viruses. In the study, the research team used a low-power laser to produce strong blasts of visible light for killing viruses. They found that it can damage the outer shell of the virus, practically deactivating the pathogen. Also, the laser does not cause the virus to mutate, which prevents the possibility of viral resistance. The researchers found the potential applications of the technology on treating serious infections, such as HIV/AIDS and hepatitis.
[메디컬리포트=Ralph Chen 기자]