New Type of Air Disinfector Can Create Fresh Air Indoors

If you’ve ever felt that a deep breath of fresh air is good for you, you may have been closer to the truth than you thought. Scientists have created a device that mimics some key components of outdoor air that also kills the “superbugs” that plague hospitals and kill thousands of patients per year. The invention is currently for sale in the UK, with plans to launch in the US, especially in hospitals.

Thousands of people die in hospitals each year, not due to illnesses or accidents, but due to the infectious environments of the hospitals themselves. Superbugs—which include viruses such as Clostridium difficile and MRSA (more commonly known as staph infection)—caused more than 5,000 deaths in UK hospitals last year. That’s more than twice the death count from car accidents.

These healthcare-associated infections (HCAI) are no doubt difficult to deal with in close quarters, especially when hospitals must face staff and budget cuts. However, the number of these infections is growing, especially among older patients. Until now, the only way to try to ward off these infections was through extensive, time-consuming cleaning.

But scientists from a company called INOV8 Technologies have developed a product called Air Disinfector that can defend against bacteria, viruses and fungi with an amazing success rate. See the picture at left? Both plates contain samples of cultured Baccillus subtilis, a surrogate for anthrax. The plate at left contains untreated bacillus, while the plate at right was taken from a chamber that was exposed to the Air Disinfector for one minute.

The key ingredient in INOV8 Tech’s product is hydroxyl radicals, biocides present in outdoor air. Nature produces hydroxyl radicals in many ways, such as cells exuding ozone and reactions between ozone and scented chemicals from plants such as pine trees.

INOV8 researchers Derek Elwood and David Macdonald found a way to mimic nature’s hydroxyl radicals, while emitting them in a safe, controlled method, without the ozone.

The device contains cartridges of scented chemicals called terpenes which interact with concealed ozone that is created when oxygen in the air interacts with electric currents. Only the radicals are released into the room, and the terpene cartridges must be replaces about once a month.

MRSAMRSAThe researchers tested the product by filling rooms with billions of bacteria. After an hour of the device being on, bacteria levels were effectively at zero. In actual hospital rooms that are heavily contaminated, the device was shown to kill the harmful microbes within minutes.

The researchers said that the same results could be obtained by keeping all the windows open.

Interestingly, staph infection can be carried on the skin of healthy people without them knowing it, as it only causes infection when it enters the body (such as during surgeries). In a sense, nature is protecting us with an immune system generated from the interaction of her components. Makes me want to take a walk. (via: New Scientist Tech)


Lisa Zyga
Science Blogger