ARTICLE – I stumbled upon an interesting crowdfunding campaign while researching the germicidal effects of ultraviolet type-C light for my PhoneSoap Go review (review coming soon). The Center for Radiological Research (CRR) at Columbia University Irving Medical Center (CUIMC) is conducting a campaign to raise money to perform studies that will help determine how effective far-UVC light is in inactivateing the virus that causes COVID-19 disease (the virus is called severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 or SARS-CoV-2 according to the World Health Organization).
Researchers are trying to raise $50,000 and currently have $25.195 If they raise the money, they can immediately start their research, and if far-UVC is found to be effective, it “could be deployed in schools, airports, train stations, airplanes, hospitals – anywhere people congregate, to limit the spread of COVID-19 and other respiratory diseases” (crowdfund.columbia.edu). This would be a way to “curtail not only COVID-19 now, but future super-viruses as well as more familiar viruses like influenza and measles” (crowdfund.columbia.edu).
First of all, what is UVC light? UVC light is a portion of the ultraviolet light spectrum just like UVA or UVB (see diagram above). UVC light (200-280) has long been known to kill disease-causing microorganisms (sciencemag.org). However, it cannot be used around humans because it can cause skin cancer and cataracts. Normally, UVC light from the sun is completely filtered out by Earth’s ozone layer (fda.gov) and thus does not get the chance to cause us any harm. Manufactured conventional germicidal UVC light sources use the 254 nm wavelength to disinfect, though not when humans are present.
What is far-UVC? This is a portion of UVC light that is in the range of 207-222 nm (nature.com). Far-UVC can still disinfect objects as well as the air around us by penetrating through to the genetic material of microbes and disrupting the bonds that hold the genetic material together thus prohibiting replication. However, it does not penetrate the outer dead layer of skin cells that cover our bodies, nor does it penetrate the tear layer covering the eyes (cuimc.columbia.edu); thus, far-UVC can’t cause skin cancer or cataracts. Simply put, it’s safe for humans but kills germs.
What are germs? The term “germs” generally includes bacteria, viruses, fungi, and protozoa. Some germs are bad for you but many are beneficial. Each of these organisms is very different from the other and thus reside in different kingdoms when classifying them, but there are a few similarities among some of them. Bacteria, fungi, and protozoa can replicate by themselves and do not need a host to survive. Bacteria and protozoa are single-celled organisms while fungi can be single-celled or multicellular. We use antibiotics to kill bacterial infections, antifungal medicines to kill fungal infections, and other drugs to kill protozoan infections (e.g. malaria).
Viruses are not living things at all. They are genetic material (DNA or RNA) wrapped in a protective coating and need a host to replicate. They get inside the host’s cell and direct the cell’s machinery to make copies of the virus. Antiviral medicines only prevent viruses from replicating – they do not “kill” or get rid of the virus in your body. Vaccines “train the immune system to recognize and combat pathogens” (publichealth.org) so that your body recognizes the invader and attacks it before it causes illness.
In 2018, Columbia researchers demonstrated that far-UVC inactivated a common strain of the flu virus “with about the same efficiency as conventional germicidal UV light” (cuimc.columbia.edu). So, if Columbia University researchers find that far-UVC is effective against the virus that causes COVID-19 as they did with a common strain of the flu virus, then it can be implemented quickly to help curtail the spread of COVID-19. If you are interested in helping to fund their research, please visit the Columbia University crowdfunding webpage.