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Zapping deadly bacteria using space technology

1 July 2011
Research done onboard the International Space Station could help us keep hospital patients safe from infections. By using plasma – gas that is electrically charged – scientists are finding new ways to kill bacteria and viruses that can cause infections in hospitals.

In recent years, health experts have seen a big rise in super-strains of bacteria that can survive the strongest antibiotics available to doctors. Some bacteria have become so strong that we are not able to fight them with normal drugs. One type of such bacteria, called MRSA, is believed to kill thousands of people each year in Europe.
With help from ESA, the team of scientists is now focusing on making a hand disinfection system for hospitals. Cold plasma technology might one day also make it into our homes. Plasma could be used to disinfect toothbrushes and would disinfect in hidden cracks and crevices too. Plasma could also be used to clean much larger things such as satellites and planetary probes, so they don’t carry bacteria from Earth to other planets.

This technology could benefit us greatly. Bacteria are constantly changing, becoming more and more resistant to the most commonly used antibiotics. Today, the best way to prevent the spread of bacterial infections in hospitals is regular hand washing between seeing patients, and constantly cleaning floors, door handles, hospital curtains and anything else that might contain harmful bacteria. The new system being developed will hopefully use plasma’s incredible antibacterial properties to make disinfection both quick and easy.

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