As society hunkers down in an attempt to stop the spread of COVID-19, commonly known as the coronavirus, people are taking stringent precautions to keep themselves from catching the disease, including self-quarantining and disinfecting commonly touched surfaces. As such, hand sanitizer, rubbing alcohol, and other disinfectants are currently in short supply.
Will it work on the coronavirus?
COVID-19 is a new breed, and as such there is a dearth of studies on its resistance to UV. That hasn’t stopped people from rolling out UV devices to thwart the virus, however. Companies that produce UV devices are seeing a notable boost in sales, and hospitals are using UV-equipped robots to disinfect hospital rooms; even face masks are getting the UV treatment.
We can look to previous coronaviruses, such as SARS and MERS, for insight. Studies on both SARS and MERS show that UV light could inactivate the viruses, so it’s not unreasonable to expect that it will have a similar effect on COVID-19.
A particular spectrum of ultraviolet light, far UV-C, “efficiently inactivates bacteria without harm to exposed mammalian skin,” according to a study published in Nature. “This is because, due to its strong absorbance in biological materials, far-UVC light cannot penetrate even the outer (non living) layers of human skin or eye; however, because bacteria and viruses are of micrometer or smaller dimensions, far-UVC can penetrate and inactivate them.”
Research like this Nature study shows that far-UVC lamps can eradicate even airborne viruses without harming people, and so we can imagine a world in which walking through airport security or entering a hospital involves passing through a UV decontamination chamber.