Hospital workers often have to wash their hands dozens of times a day — and may need a minute or more to do the process right, by scrubbing with soap and water. But new devices could reduce the task to just four seconds, cleaning even hard-to-reach areas under fingernails.
Instead of scrubbing, the workers would put their hands into a small box that bathes them with plasma — the same sort of luminous gas found in neon signs, fluorescent tubes and TV displays. This plasma, though, is at room temperature and pressure, and is engineered to zap germs, including the drug-resistant supergerm MRSA.
The technology is being developed in several laboratories. Gregor Morfill, who created several prototypes using the technology at the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Garching, Germany, says the plasma quickly inactivates not only bacteria but also viruses and fungi.
Dr. Morfill and his colleagues have tested their devices on hands and feet. “It works on athlete’s foot,” he said. “And the nice thing is, you don’t have to take your socks off. They are disinfected, too.” (The cleaning takes a bit longer when socks are added to the job, he said — about 25 seconds. “And it doesn’t yet work through shoes,” he added.)