PhotoFirst, there was old fashioned soap and water. Lately, hand sanitizers have come into vogue. Now there is a new high-tech tool to eliminate bacteria.

Its developers call it the plasma flashlight. It looks at lot like a regular flashlight, except that it emits a plasma jet that kills bacteria on the skin in an instant. Developed by a group of Chinese and Australian scientists, the flashlight is completely mobile, light, efficient, and works at room temperature, its sponsors say.

Due to its mobility it could be used in ambulance emergency calls, natural disaster sites, military combat operations and many other instances where treatment is required in remote locations.

Health care centers

“The plasma flashlight is an exciting development in potential health treatments,” said Kostya Ostrikov, one of the researchers who worked on the device. “It not only inactivates individual bacterial cells but also bacterial biofilms.”

Don't expect to see these devices in public restrooms, or even your home for that matter. At least not right away. Their anticipated use is in areas where bacteria has built up resistance to soap and other cleaning agents, like hospitals and dental offices.

Reearchers say the plasma flashlight effectively inactivated a thick biofilm of one of the most antibiotic and heat-resistant bacteria, Enterococcus faecalis, a bacterium which often infects the root canals during dental treatments.

10 seconds

“We used an extreme example to demonstrate that the plasma flashlight can be very effective even at room temperature,” Kostya said. "For individual bacteria, the inactivation time could be just tens of seconds.”

Kostya says tests suggest the device can be used to kill pathogens, such as bacteria, viruses, spores or fungi. In a hospital setting, it could be used to clean and sterilise medical equipment and wounds. It could also be used for plasma-assisted coagulation to help heal wounds, plus it could be used to treat cancers such as skin cancer.

But it doesn’t have to be restricted to medical use. It could end up in homes at some point in the future, incorporated into a variety of consumer products.

“This device could be miniaturized and used in hygiene treatments such as toothbrushes or chopping boards in the kitchen,” Kostya said.

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