Ultraviolet technology shines new light on COVID-19 infection prevention

A spectrum of ultraviolet light that can kill the novel coronavirus without harming humans may be key to reducing viral exposure in widely occupied spaces such as hospitals, according to Columbia University researchers, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports.

The shorter wavelength UV light, dubbed far-UVC light, cannot reach or damage living human cells unlike conventional, longer wavelength UV light that can cause cancer and cataracts in humans exposed to it, according to the report. However, the far-UVC light can kill very small viruses and bacteria that float in the air and reside on surfaces, according to the report.

The use of far-UVC lamp technology, which provides little to no actual light, may eventually be used to treat air and surfaces in indoor and public locations such as hospitals, schools, airports, buses and trains, David Brenner, PhD, director of Columbia University's radiological research center, told the publication. In hospitals, the lamps could significantly reduce the spread of the virus for patients and clinicians as well as speed sterilization of medical equipment and hospital rooms, according to Dr. Brenner.

Dr. Brenner's radiology team has been working to develop the far-UVC lighting for five years. High-capacity production and FDA approval have been two of the project's biggest barriers; Dr. Brenner said that before the pandemic, his best estimate for when the issues would be solved was about nine months and that his team is now trying to finish sooner. In late March, the FDA issued an advisory that allows the use of sterilizer and disinfection devices, including the far-UVC lamps, in hospitals and other public health facilities during the coronavirus pandemic.

Eden Park Illumination, a Champaign, Ill.-based lighting tech company, has been working with Dr. Brenner on a National Institutes of Health contract and since 2018 has been producing "a small number" of the far-UVC lamps for industrial use, according to the report. Eden Park Illumination is currently looking to hire more workers due to an increase in demand from the healthcare industry.

As for pricing, a thin, two-inch square far-UVC light costs about $500, according to Eden Park Illumination CEO Cy Herring. Pittsburgh-based Allegheny Health Network is currently evaluating implementing the lamp technology across its hospital network in conjunction with its existing ultraviolet decontamination systems in its air-handling units.

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