Studies showing that far-UVC light kills coronaviruses started circulating fairly early in the pandemic, but they were small studies and the whole project seemed marginal–one of those promising possibilities doomed to be ignored by the folks who know best. A new study might be changing that.
Might, mind you. As Yogi Berra might or might not have said, “It’s tough to make predictions. Especially about the future.” *
But first, let’s talk about UVC light: It’s short for ultraviolet light, and it kills germs, which (you may remember) we have reason to think is a good idea these days. But UVC has some bad habits. Basically, it doesn’t like people. It can burn the skin and damage the eyes, so if you want to disinfect a room with it, you have to figure out how to keep the light and the people apart.
That’s awkward, what with Covid’s habit of circulating through the people’s lungs.
Far-UVC, though, doesn’t have those bad habits. It has a shorter wavelength, so it doesn’t penetrate skin or eye cells. But it still slaughters viruses and bacteria, since they’re smaller than the cells humans are interested in protecting.
So we now have UVC, far-UVC, and a bunch of dead viruses.
The earlier studies demonstrating far-UVC’s usefulness and safety were conducted in small experimental chambers, and that left open the question of whether it would work in less controlled situations. Now someone’s done a demonstration in real-world conditions–a fairly ordinary room with roughly the same ventilation as a home or office, which is about three air changes per hour.
Does your home change air three times an hour? Does mine? Haven’t a clue, so let’s take their word for it.
Under those conditions, far-UVC slaughtered 98% of the test microbes within five minutes. Compared to other ways of cleaning air, that’s–to quote someone involved in the project–spectacular.
I know that, gentle vegetarian that I am, I’m not supposed to be cheering mass slaughter, but nobody ever accused the human race of consistency, and I am, to the best of my knowledge, predominantly human.
If you want more detail of the experiment, you’ll have to follow the link. It involves numbers, although not many of them. But it doesn’t take many to send me running. Before I left, I did take in that the approach works with viruses, bacteria, and any additional infectious beasties that I’ve forgotten, none of which can mutate to develop a resistance to it.
So in the interest of public health, will far-UVC be coming to all indoor spaces near you? I’d love to think so; it only makes sense. The problem is that it not only makes sense, it costs money. Granted, it would also save money by making indoor air 98% safe, keeping us healthy, and quite possibly getting the pandemic (and assorted other diseases) under control, but we’ve all lived long enough to know that logic doesn’t necessarily apply. It’ll depend on who would be saving the money, who would be spending, and who would be making it it–not to mention who can see half an inch in front of their nose.
In the UK, I predict far-UVC will be adopted only if someone with strong ties to the Conservative Party–preferably a huge fuckin’ donor–goes into the business. At that point, it will become the savior of the nation and we’ll have a world-beating promise to install it everywhere. Some huge amount of money will then be spent and it will be installed in nowhere near as many places as we were promised.
But it’s hard to make predictions. Especially about the future.
UV can also be used to clean N95 masks, a new study demonstrates. Early in the pandemic, when protective gear was in short supply, people in medical settings tried pretty much everything to make the gear they had last longer, including disinfecting it with UV, since they had the equipment on hand for other uses. The masks were only meant for a single use, but they were desperate enough to stretch that.
Dianne Poster, a co-author of the study, said, “Right now, UV technologies are really in their infancy with respect to the healthcare environment.” And I’m quoting that because it strikes me as relevant–at least vaguely–to the use of far-UVC as well.
And while we’re in UVC mode, researchers have come up with a system that can alternate between plain ol’ white LED light to, you know, see by and UVC light to decontaminate an indoor space. The drawback is that it depends on motion-sensors to let it know when the room’s empty. So you wouldn’t want to fall asleep at your desk or be in the sensors’ blind spot.
The lights work in standard lighting fixtures, which should keep the cost down.
Other new developments
A nasal spray that promises to prevent Covid infection for 12 hours or treat the early stages of infection has passed mouse studies with flying colors and a company is trying to raise money for human studies, development, marketing, and all the uproar necessary (or at least expected) to get a product to market.
Is this the same anti-Covid nasal spray I wrote about a few weeks ago? Possibly. At the moment, this one’s called N-0385, so you can see why the name didn’t stay in my mind. But who cares? I want this stuff badly enough to risk writing about it twice.
For the first time, doctors have used a vaccine to clear Covid from the body of an immune-suppressed patient who tested positive for seven months after first catching the virus.
This wasn’t long Covid, where symptoms keep dancing long after the viral band has packed up its instruments and gone home.The patient tested positive through that whole time.
Assorted other tests and treatments and vaccines are also in the works. The new tests are faster and more accurate than what we’re currently using. Some of the treatments hold the promise of working against mutated forms of Covid by targeting a part of the virus that can’t mutate–the virus dies if it plays around with that spot. One vaccine would be highly tweakable when not just new variants but new diseases emerge, and I think we’ve learned by now that new diseases will emerge, although whether we’ll act on that knowledge is a whole ‘nother question.
I mention all this to say, Hang in there, folks. We will get through this.
How dangerous is the new omicron variant, omicron point two? (It’s actually called BA.2, but never mind that.) For starters–and forgive me if you already know this–it’s no tougher than omicron point one. It can’t lift heavier weights, can’t run faster, and to date hasn’t stolen lunch money from any more kids than point one has.
It is more contagious, but according to one measurement not by that much. You can tell that by how long it’s taking to become the dominant strain.
So if this study’s right, it kind of fooled us there. Early reports were that it was much more contagious.
The bad news–isn’t there always bad news?–-is that the people studying it expect people to get reinfected. You already knew that too, right? It’s a coronavirus. People do tend to get reinfected by them. So you have my encouragement to deck the next person who mentions herd immunity to you. Or you can ask me to do it if you’re not in the mood. I’m five foot not very much, 75 years old, and terrifying in a fight.
And I need the exercise.
The article I stole all this from reminds us that “we’re entering a different phase of the pandemic,” and “need to now assess whether [a new variant is] a risk to the general population, . . . a risk to an individual person” or a risk to a specific group such as the elderly or the immune compromised.
Which is an interesting way of seeing the problem and I can’t help wondering if it’s an invitation to write off a few inconvenient groups in the presumed interest of the general population and to stop looking at Covid as a public health issue and start looking at it as a personal problem.
But maybe that’s just me being cynical.
The article ends with a call for people to wear masks when they’re sick, even if what they have isn’t Covid, because they’ll protect other people from whatever they have. It’s a radical thought: inconvenience yourself marginally to help other people significantly.
There’s got to be something wrong with that.
In the meantime, the World Health Organization says omicron point 2 is 30% more transmissible than omicron point one. I can’t compare that estimate to the one above since their measuring tapes are marked differently. Make what you can of it.
WHO also says the European countries that have dismantled their anti-~Covid measures have done it too “brutally,” going from too many restrictions to too few. It reminds us that cases are rising.
In Britain, they’re rising significantly, and deaths are also going up. Not the way they did at the start of the pandemic, but the trend is up all the same, and the people who are dying of it are still dead. We don’t seem to be treating Covid as a public health problem anymore, just a personal one. If we see a coronavirus coming at us, we’re advised to either duck or dodge to the left.
It’s a fantastically effective strategy.
* Yogi Berra is also supposed to have said, “I never said half the things I said.” So you want to approach his quotes with caution. They’re likely to explode on contact with a human brain.