COVID-19: Scientists develop new tool that may help decontaminate viruses in aerosols

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Updated: January 30, 2021 12:05 PM

Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, studies have found that the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 spreads via aerosols that can be generated and spread through breathing, coughing, sneezing, or talking by infected individuals.

coronavirusEvidence suggests that current vaccines still work against the variants though perhaps not as well against a mutated version that first appeared in South Africa. (Representational image: Reuters)

Scientists have engineered a new tool which exposes aerosolised virus particles to microwaves in a controlled manner, an advance that may lead to the development of novel methods to reduce the spread of the coronavirus.

Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, studies have found that the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 spreads via aerosols that can be generated and spread through breathing, coughing, sneezing, or talking by infected individuals.

While previous studies have explored the use of electromagnetic energy to deactivate viruses in bulk fluids, the researchers, including those from the Air Force Research Laboratory in the US, said less work has been done to understand the role of microwaves in inactivating viral pathogens in aerosols.

In the current research, published in the journal Physics of Fluids, the scientists developed experimental tools capable of presenting electromagnetic waves to an aerosol mixture containing viruses. They said the apparatus offers the ability to vary power, energy, and frequency of the electromagnetic exposure.

With further research, the scientists hope to better characterise the threshold levels of microwave energy needed to inactivate aerosolised viral particles and reduce their ability to spread infection. They believe the new experimental design can provide the means to identify a wide variety of virus inactivation mechanisms.

According to the researchers, the systems are designed to prevent the release of microwaves into the work environment since at high levels the radiation could potentially interfere with diagnostic equipment and other electronics. They plan to expose coronavirus surrogate — bovine coronavirus — to microwaves at frequencies ranging from 2.8 gigahertz to 7.5 gigahertz (GHz).

In comparison, commercial microwave ovens operate at around 2.45 GHz. Explaining, the need for the surrogate virus, Brad Hoff, a co-author of the study from the Air Force Research Laboratory, said the bovine coronavirus is “similar in size and configuration to human coronavirus, but is safe to humans.”

“If shown to be effective, the use of microwaves may enable the potential for rapid decontamination not currently addressed by ultraviolet light or chemical cleaning for highly cluttered areas, while potentially operating at levels safely compatible with human occupancy,” Hoff added.

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