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In the media: Flu warfare may look different next year (CNN)

Professor Pratim Biswas shared how aerosol technology can capture and kill infectious flu particles in the air. >> Read the full article on cnn.com.

Another non-pharmaceutical approach to preventing influenza is air cleaning.

Aerosol researchers have developed a technology that effectively removes disease particulates, including influenza germs, from the air. The experimental technology includes an electrostatic filter capable of "capturing all kinds of particles, including viruses and bacteria," said Pratim Biswas, the lead researcher and a professor at Washington University in St. Louis.

Not only does the air purification technology capture potentially infectious particles "with extremely high efficiency," it kills them, he said.

Essentially, the technology displaces a charge on the particles, uses an electrical field to trap them and then deactivates any harmful pathogens, he explained. The filter can be used within HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) systems, in which, unlike a conventional filter-based device, it would not become a breeding ground for germs and microbes, said Biswas.

The National Institutes of Health funded testing of the filter, which proved successful in destroying biological agents in the laboratory "from poliovirus to anthrax to flu virus," Biswas said. "We've done very extensive testing over the last five to seven years."

"It's already available in pilot form," Biswas said. With Jiaxi Fang and Tandeep Chadha, both of Washington University in St. Louis, Biswas created a startup company, Applied Particle Technology, to work on commercializing the product.

The startup is working with hospitals to prepare the filter for deployment and testing in a clinical environment.

Ultimately, the invention may function as a "smart filtration system" in medical offices, clinics, hospitals and nursing homes to help prevent increasingly common hospital-acquired infections, Biswas said.

Someday, commercial settings and homes may also benefit from the technology -- "not to mention the indoor air quality problems that many parts of the world are facing," he said.

We inhale no less than a million particles with each breath we take in a reasonably clean room, he noted. Because the filter would ensure cleaner, more breathable air, Biswas hopes it soon becomes available for home use, though no market date has been set.