UV light in the fight against the corona virus? This is how it works

Ever since the corona crisis began, efforts have been made to return to normal life as soon as possible. One of the possible solutions that could help with this: a lamp that switches off the corona virus particles.

Last night, artist Daan Roosegaarde launched ‘the urban sun’ at the table Jinek. An artificially designed sun that uses ultraviolet light to defuse the corona virus in the air. People who are within the beam of light have less risk of passing the coronavirus to each other. Is that artificial sun a harbinger of a corona-free future?

UV radiation

Ultraviolet radiation has long been used to disinfect, for example, mouth masks or other medical objects. “There is a chemical reaction between the UV light and the virus, which damages it in such a way that it no longer functions properly,” explains Fred Brouwer, professor of natural sciences at the University of Amsterdam.

But most UV rays are harmful to humans, says virologist Ab Osterhaus. “UV light with certain wavelengths can cause serious damage to the eyes or skin. It can even be carcinogenic.”

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Non-harmful lamps

With ‘the urban sun’ you do not have that problem of harmfulness. This UV radiation is located at a wavelength of 222 nanometers. And that is good news for the fight against the corona virus.

“Recent research by radiologists and virologists has shown that a lower wavelength, specifically between 207 and 222 nanometers, does harm the virus, but not humans,” says Osterhaus.

PSV and London underground

The corona virus can therefore be made harmless with a UV lamp at a wavelength of 222 nanometers. “This is a gradual process where reduction occurs, just as you have with air ventilation, for example. The more distance you have from the lamp, the less well it works,” says Osterhaus. So you really have to be close to such a lamp.

It is also the case that the radiation only eliminates virus particles that are in the light, the particles in the shadow are not affected. But PSV already has the lamps in the changing rooms and the escalators of the London metro stations are also illuminated by the UV lamps, so that the railings remain virus-free. After the first 6 weeks, the number of infections in the underground dropped by 50 percent.

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Additional measure

The lamp does not protect against all means of virus transmission. Ivar Lede, medical microbiologist at the Zaans medical center, says that this is due to the large drops, which are released during sneezing, for example. “When someone is infected with the corona virus and sneezes, large droplets spread in the air. Then there can be such a lamp, but it does not protect people within 1.5 meters against those droplets.”

That is why, according to experts, the UV radiation is best used as an additional means. “In infection prevention, so-called bundles of measures are used. This means that you not only put on an apron, but also put on a face mask,” says Lede. “If you were to use this lamp in combination with other measures, I think it could be a good addition.”

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