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How ultraviolet light could be used to fight the flu

Fighting the flu with UV light
Fighting the flu with ultraviolet light 02:37

NEW YORK -- The family of Sabrina Vierra Clark is telling her story of how a sore throat became a fatal case of flu.

"In the morning, she said she thinks she needs to go to the hospital because she been coughing up blood all night," said Steve Clark, Sabrina's husband.

Two days later, the 41-year-old mother of two died.

Avoiding the flu has become a national obsession, from cleaning and disinfecting flu ridden schools to announcements on the New York City subway.

Dr. David Brenner (R), is testing a light that can kill the flu virus in the air CBS News

In the future, prevention could come with the flick of a switch. 

Dr. David Brenner, the director of the Center for Radiological Research at Columbia University, and a team are testing whether a certain type of ultraviolet light can kill the flu virus in the air. UV light is already used as a germ killer, but conventional UV light can penetrate and damage the skin and also cause cataracts. A certain type of UV light called far-UVC, however, can't get past the top layer of the skin or the tear layer of the eyes.

"It really does have the best of both worlds," Brenner said. "It really does kill influenza viruses and it really doesn't harm you and I."

Far-UVC can't go past the top layer of skin CBS News

A newly published paper from his lab shows even a low dose is more than 95 percent effective against airborne flu virus.

"We could see it being used as overhead lamps in doctors waiting rooms or schools or any type of hospital or airports for example," Brenner said.

The same goes for airplanes.

"I was sitting in an airplane a couple of days ago," Brenner explained. "The person behind me was sneezing away and I was thinking to myself, 'If we only had far-UVC lights in the ceiling of this airplane maybe I won't get the flu.'"

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