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While people panic worldwide over the spread of Ebola and scientists rush to develop vaccines, devices that kill the deadly virus present on surfaces in only five minutes are already available.

The question is, why aren’t these devices being used in every hospital?

Don’t be fooled, those hand sanitizers that many people use don’t kill everything. And once they’re in the body, viruses are quite tough to kill — antibiotics are powerless against them and vaccines for influenza and other viruses must be changed every year to adapt to new strains. Fortunately our immune systems can fight off many viruses, but some, like Ebola can be deadly. It may then surprise you to learn that something viruses are exposed to all the time — visible light — can be used to kill them.

A study by Kong-Thon Tsen of Arizona State University along with researchers at Johns Hopkins University shows how strong blasts of visible light from a low-power laser can kill viruses. The laser technique appears to be more successful than other methods at killing viruses, while also posing less harm to healthy tissue.

In their study, the researchers blasted a virus with a quick pulse of purple laser light. The laser, which only shines for 100 Femtosecond (a femtosecond is one millionth of a billionth of a second), causes the virus’s capsid (outer shell) to vibrate and become damaged. Essentially, the virus becomes “deactivated” while the area around the virus remains unharmed. The treatment doesn’t cause viruses to mutate either, which is a problem in other virus treatments and can lead to viral resistance.

Xenex's germ-zapping robots were used at a local school this week to protect against unwanted viruses and bacteria.

Xenex’s germ-zapping robots were used at a local school this week to protect against unwanted viruses and bacteria.

These serious diseases like Ebola, HIV/AIDS and hepatitis could be blasted with laser light. Scientists could cleanse blood samples of viruses and other pathogens, making them safer to handle. Scientists could also combine the laser therapy with current blood dialysis treatments. In that case, blood would be cycled out of a patient’s body, lasers could eliminate any pathogens in the blood and the blood would be cycled back in.

Doctors are limited in the ways they can fight viruses, which is why studies like this one are so exciting.

robot virus killer

Ebola-killing ROBOT destroys the virus in minutes: ‘Little Moe’ uses flashes 25,000 times brighter than sunlight to kill diseases

The Xenex Germ-Zapping Robots, invented by a group of Texas doctors, kills the virus by using UV light to destroy its DNA. The TRU-D | SmartUVC , pioneered by a British doctor, uses similar technology.

UV-C light has been used for many years to disinfect, but older technology relied on toxic mercury. The Xenex germ killer uses Xenon gas, which leaves no poisonous residue, to create UV-C light that is 25,000 times more powerful than natural sunlight.
When the Xenex robot is wheeled into a room, all drawers, cabinets, etc., are opened so the light can reach their contents. All people are banned from the room and the light is pulsed from two to five minutes. Pathogens are destroyed in huge numbers — as much as 62 percent of bacterial superbugs and different types of viruses.
The Xenex robot, which costs about $100,000 a unit, is already used in 250 hospitals across the United States.

Like the laser technique, UV irradiation kills viruses by breaking down their cell walls. Some ventilation and water-purification systems make use of UV irradiation to eliminate airborne or waterborne pathogens. Researchers have successfully used UV irradiation to kill food-borne pathogens, like E. coli bacteria, without diminishing taste or food quality. But while UV irradiation can be effective, it can also cause viruses to mutate and has the potential to damage healthy cells (as anyone who’s suffered a sunburn can attest).