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Medicine Science

Plasma Device Kills Bacteria On Skin In Seconds 237

Posted by kdawson
from the it's-a-dry-cold dept.
Ponca City, We love you writes "In medicine, plasma, the fourth state of matter, is already used for sterilizing surgical instruments; plasma works at the atomic level and is able to reach all surfaces, even the interior of hollow needle ends. Now the BBC reports that researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics have demonstrated a plasma device that can rid hands, feet, or even underarms of bacteria, including the hospital superbug MRSA, by creating cold atmospheric plasma that produces a cocktail of chemicals that kills bacteria but is harmless to skin. 'The plasma produces a series of over 200 chemical reactions that involve the oxygen and nitrogen in air plus water vapor — there is a whole concoction of chemical species that can be lethal to bacteria,' says Gregor Morfill. 'It's actually similar to what our own immune system does.' The team says that an exposure to the plasma of only about 12 seconds reduces the incidence of bacteria, viruses, and fungi on hands by a factor of a million — a number that stands in sharp contrast to the several minutes hospital staff can take to wash using traditional soap and water. Morfill says that the approach can be used to kill the bacteria that lead to everything from gum disease to body odor and that the prototype is scalable to any size and can be produced in any shape."
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Plasma Device Kills Bacteria On Skin In Seconds

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  • by the_one(2) (1117139) on Friday November 27, 2009 @02:43PM (#30247506)

    Do you remember the article on /. about how excessive cleanliness isn't all that good for you? Yeah...

    • by spidercoz (947220) on Friday November 27, 2009 @02:46PM (#30247554) Journal
      would that be next to excessive godliness? that doesn't sound too good either. I dated a girl in high school that had excessive godliness
    • by Chyeld (713439) <chyeldNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Friday November 27, 2009 @02:46PM (#30247558)

      Don't know about you kid, but a doc sticking his hand into my insides is one of those situations where I'm willing to forego the 'benefit' of having my immune system stimulated by germs being introduced in the process and ask him to wash up.

      • On a future operating room wall: To ensure your hands have been sterilized of all contaminents, please insert arms into this plasma conduit for 10 seconds before beginning any medical procedure.

      • Don't know about you kid, but a doc sticking his hand into my insides is one of those situations where I'm willing to forego the 'benefit' of having my immune system stimulated by germs being introduced in the process and ask him to wash up.

        And just pray that it's his hands that go under the plasma.

    • by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Friday November 27, 2009 @02:55PM (#30247650)

      Do you remember that not everything applies to every situation? Because it doesn't.

      The article about excessive cleanliness was relating to raising children. Basically, our immune systems are like most things in us in that they need to be used to develop. As such children need to get sick to have a well functioning immune system as adults. You don't want to keep them in a sterile environment or they'll never develop defenses.

      However this is for hospitals. There you do want things as clean as possible. You have people who are in weakened states, their ability to fight off disease is less than normal. Also, you are bypassing a lot of their defenses in many cases. Your body is much more difficult to infect via the nose and mouth than directly via an open incision in your chest. As such, maximal clean is desirable.

      This is not an all or nothing thing. Being super clean is not always good or always bad, it depends on the situation. You wouldn't want to buy this for home and turn your house in to a sterile cleanroom from which you never let your kid out. They'd have no immune system and be very vulnerable in the world. However you do want this for hospitals to ensure that wounded and sick people aren't made further sick by an infection that they can't fight in a weakened state.

      • by b4upoo (166390)

        Could this device be used to kill off bacteria in blood without ruining the blood? If so it could be used in a device somewhat like a unit used for kidney patients to save people with runaway internal infections.

        • I didn't read the article but I'm going to guess no. I suspect its alright for external use due to the fact that keratinized skin cells already are dead, just filled with keratin.

    • Exactly. I can remember the explanation, that our whole skin in 100% covered is a layer of bacteria. And that those good bacteria prevent the settling of bad bacterial. Which is an important part of what keeps us healthy.

      It’s the same thing as in the stomach. No bacteria, no digestion! I once had a bad settlement of a very dominating helicobacter. Man, you’re fucked, if something bad comes along. That little shithead (not even an insult in this case ^^) not only wrecked my whole digestion, but c

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by sjames (1099)

      These are not being suggested for in-home or preschool whole body sanitizing. They're suggested for doctors or nurses working on people with infectious diseases and potentially compromised immune systems. The problem of excessive clenliness isn't caused by washing up, it's caused by obsessively slathering your child in sanitizing gel whenever he might have (god forbid) touched something.

  • Resistance? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Dwedit (232252) on Friday November 27, 2009 @02:43PM (#30247508) Homepage

    So how long until we see bacteria resistant to this device?

    • Re:Resistance? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by geekoid (135745) <dadinportland @ y a hoo.com> on Friday November 27, 2009 @02:50PM (#30247604) Homepage Journal

      Never. There is a difference between removing the easy bugs, and complete annihilation of all bacteria it come into contact with. Its like saying the if we had enough super novas humans would become resistant to them.

      • Resistance is useless - we will make your sun go nova...
      • Actually, evolution is pretty clever. If it doesn't eradicate human skin (maybe just reduces the dead layer a bit?), then bacterias can survive too.

        A more apt analogy would be to say that out of all the intelligent species in the universe, there is bound to be some that know how to evade or cope with a supernovae.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by sjames (1099)

          It will denature any protein at all. It doesn't harm the surface of your skin only because that is already composed of dead cells. Bacteria are about as likely to evolve resistance to fire or concentrated nitric acid.

        • Upper layer of human skin is filled with Keratin. You could break the damn membrane and that shit still would be fine I'm sure.

    • Re:Resistance? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Chyeld (713439) <chyeldNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Friday November 27, 2009 @02:54PM (#30247642)

      In order to grow resistance, you have to leave a few alive and they have to have been left alive due in some part to something in their makeup causing them to be less vulnerable to the 'weapon'.

      In other words, something that lived only because it was never touched isn't going to evolve into the superbug.

      This eradicates the germs, they aren't being poisoned or having their chemical processes blocked (which is what most antibiotics do), it's ripping the germs apart at the atomic level. You don't develop a resistance to that.

      • Re:Resistance? (Score:4, Informative)

        by A beautiful mind (821714) on Friday November 27, 2009 @03:15PM (#30247840)

        In order to grow resistance, you have to leave a few alive and they have to have been left alive due in some part to something in their makeup causing them to be less vulnerable to the 'weapon'.

        In other words, something that lived only because it was never touched isn't going to evolve into the superbug.

        Your first sentence is true, the second is false. Position _can_ be a genetic advantage. "Something that lived only because it was never touched" happens all the time in biology, where the positional behaviour can be driven by genetics.

        Birds avoid high altitude, herds don't generally jump off cliffs, etc. The same happens on a more primitive level, too. People think about genetics and think it's like a human arms race or something, but all natural selection needs is surviving members of a species and it will encode _whatever_ information made them survive. Please remember, we're not talking about single instances of plasma sterilization processes, but basically waiting for a mutation to come along that happens to encode the information which in turn makes a significant contribution to the survival of the bacteria. It might not happen often, but if it happens a few times, then that strain will spread.

        • by sjames (1099)

          If all the harmful bacteria evolves to avoid the human body then the problem is solved!

      • This eradicates the germs, they aren't being poisoned or having their chemical processes blocked (which is what most antibiotics do), it's ripping the germs apart at the atomic level. You don't develop a resistance to that.

        I'm sure similar thoughts were said about radiation, bleach, alcohol, and autoclaves. Turns out there are various critters resistant or immune to each.

        However, if this manages to blow away prions (which aren't zapped by a number of things, including normal autoclaves), it'll be grea

        • by sjames (1099)

          I'm sure similar thoughts were said about radiation, bleach, alcohol, and autoclaves. Turns out there are various critters resistant or immune to each.

          None of which are harmful to us. They had to become so different in order to survive those things that our bodies no longer make a good habitat for them.

      • Hence why the alcohol hand washes don't create superbugs either - it just kills them wholesale, and developing an immunity to it is highly unlikely.

        Now, if they could just do something like this that would kill viruses. We all know someone using Purel like it's going out of fashion because they think it's protecting them against H1N1... What if we actually had something that could (aside from hand-washing, of course)?

      • I wonder why nobody came up with the idea of selling proper bacterial cultures to apply to the skin after killing everything there. or to eat after antibiotics. That would be a gigantic business!!

        Perhaps because it already exists, and is called yogurt (with living cultures), or a proper and fresh sour-dough starter culture (as opposed to the cultures/starters that have gone bad for years, but still are used by bakeries). :)

        But hmm... if I just search around for really nice starter cultures, and let a microb

        • by mpeskett (1221084)

          Also: Why use such a high-tech device, wen you can just apply a iodine solution to your skin? Kills everything. bacterial, viruses, funguses, parasites. Of course you can never put it in your mouth or something, because it can just as well kill you (or at least make you very sick). But for the skin, what reasons are there not to use it?

          It stains skin yellow, it's a bit of an irritant, and a small amount will be absorbed into your blood stream. Not a problem if you just want to sterilise a wound the wrap a bandage over it, but for general use hand-washing... well, people will be more inclined to use it if it leaves their skin the same colour as they started with.

          Hmm... maybe you could use the staining in a hospital to make it easy to see who's washed their hands...

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Dunbal (464142)

      So how long until we see bacteria resistant to this device?

            About 20 years after we see bacteria resistant to current gamma ray and UV sterilization techniques. Don't hold your breath. Sterilize means no bacteria or spores survive. Do you think they chose 12 seconds "at random" or because "it sounds cool"? No, 12 seconds is the time (with a probably safety margin built in) at which cultures have shown repeatedly that all bacteria are dead.

  • sweet (Score:3, Funny)

    by spidercoz (947220) on Friday November 27, 2009 @02:44PM (#30247524) Journal
    I want a plasma bathtub
  • by Aggrajag (716041) on Friday November 27, 2009 @02:45PM (#30247538)
    As a nurse I would welcome this as I have to wash and disinfect my hands several times a day.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by geekoid (135745)

      Wouldn't you still need to wash hands to remove the larger bit of stuff stuck to your hands? Bacteria is the primary reason why you need to wash your hands all the time, but not the only one.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by jpmorgan (517966)

        Removing bulk material is comparatively easy, when needed. Washing to decontaminate, as is required frequently in hospitals, is a much more arduous task.

    • As a nurse I would welcome this as I have to wash and disinfect my hands several times a day.

      As a nurse, I'd hope you would remember the same lecture on hand-washing I got when I started working for a hospital. Namely, that your nails are equally if not more important. What does this do for dirt under nails? Uh huh.

      • by RemyBR (1158435)
        If it can clean the hollow tip of a needle, I'd think that dirt under your nails wouldn't be a problem. One of the posters above is right though, this is not going to eliminate the need to wash your hands to remove the "bulk" dirt.
      • by Aggrajag (716041)
        This would mean using less disinfectant, the alcohol dries my hands.
    • I'd like to think that before I die the idea of shooting one's self in the ass and/or groin with plasma after using the restroom is not only common but encouraged in the interest of cleanliness and good manners.
    • There’s this thing called “gloves”, you know. Just use the condom-like types, that don’t look as if you don’t want to touch the patient, and a bit of self-confidence to overcome stupid comments from stupid people, and you’re good. :)

      • by Aggrajag (716041)
        Gloves don't give 100% protection, that's why it is extremely important to use disinfectant between glove changes.
  • When does it come in gift size?
    • They're expensive; don't give them away. Just holster one on your belt and blast any smelly coworkers with your plasma gun.

  • Good bacteria? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Lord Lode (1290856) on Friday November 27, 2009 @02:47PM (#30247580)
    I thought a lot of the bacteria in and on humans were good ones, which are required to be fit and healthy and function properly. What happens to those?
    • by Cedric Tsui (890887) on Friday November 27, 2009 @02:49PM (#30247600)
      The same thing that happens to them when you wash with antibacterial soap.
      • Re:Good bacteria? (Score:4, Informative)

        by Dunbal (464142) on Friday November 27, 2009 @03:16PM (#30247842)

        The same thing that happens to them when you wash with antibacterial soap.

              One of the most overrated products in the world. Everyone thinks they're getting "anti-bacterial" protection.

              If you want "clean hands" while washing with antibacterial soap, make sure you do like we surgeons and wash each hand for 15 minutes. Even then you'll have critters living in your sweat glands... but your bacterial count will be very very low. For the regular "less time than it takes to sing the the birthday song" hand washing, anti-bacterial soap offers virtually no advantage over regular soap.

              Now hands up who spends 30 mins washing their hands every time they touch something.

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by PitaBred (632671)
          Thanks. Now I have to go wash my hands after typing this. Another half-hour before I can get to bed.
    • by RJFerret (1279530)

      More importantly, how to replenish your good bacteria?

      The same problem exists with antibacterial soap, after using it and making yourself more vulnerable to harmful bacteria, how do you replace the good defensive bacteria you had in the first place that keeps you healthy? (Since you've just created an environment ripe for harmful bacteria to flourish.)

      Obviously this new process also affects viruses and fungi, although it makes no mention of any impact to fungal spores in TFA.

    • Plasma knows neither good nor evil, it kills them all the same. Further, these plasmas probably destroy a good deal of the oils in your skin as well. Which probably means that if you sterilized your hands too much using non-equilibrium plasma you are more likely to have dry, rough skin.

  • plasma works at the atomic level

    Whereas an autoclave, which sterilizes using heat, only works on the proton, quark, and meringue pie levels?

    • No, but wouldn't regular anti-bacterial soap work on the molecular level?

      If you could get all health-care workers to regularly put their hands in an autoclave, then maybe that would be a better solution.

  • by Painted (1343347) on Friday November 27, 2009 @02:49PM (#30247598) Homepage
    There was a scene on Babylon 5 where Sheridan and Garibaldi are killing time in a public restroom waiting for someone to leave (yeah, a Sci-Fi show that admits people go to the bathroom!), and Sheridan is shown "washing" his hands under what appears to be a disinfecting device...

    Funny how you can often find references in fiction to things that later become reality...
  • The big question is, how soon can we turn this into some sort of weapon?

  • a true "wtf" (Score:2, Interesting)

    this belongs on the science equivalent of www.thedailywtf.com
    plasma = uncontrolled mix of highly reactive chemicals
    highly reactive chemicals = damage to skin at some level
    thus we have that old item, the therapeutic index roughy ratio of harm to good
    however,
    highly reactive chemcials = bugs getting resistant
    how ? learning to live deeper in the skin (bad for you)
    learning to make enzymes that deto the highly reactive chemicals (radical quenchers like SOD)
    learning to elaborte low molecular weight or high molecu

  • So was phenol, for that matter. If it kills bacteria in 12 seconds, it's "not nice stuff". Oh yeah maybe the keratin on your skin will prevent it from penetrating. What if it gets in your sweat glands. What if your skin has a lesion, and the keratin is interrupted...

    This one gets filed in the "call me when we've been using it safely for 20 years" category. Until then I will stick to soap and water.

    • by spidercoz (947220)

      What if your skin has a lesion, and the keratin is interrupted...

      then your hands melt

    • by sjames (1099)

      It's a matter of the amounts. Phenol can get past your skin and in to general circulation quite easily. There's a lot more phenol molecules in a liquid cleaner than there will be free radicals in the plasma. The free radicals will also neutralize themselves quickly as they contact proteins.

      Soap and water are just fine though so unless you're a doctor or nurse you will probably want to stay with those anyway for simple practicality.

    • by Urkki (668283)

      So was phenol, for that matter. If it kills bacteria in 12 seconds, it's "not nice stuff". Oh yeah maybe the keratin on your skin will prevent it from penetrating. What if it gets in your sweat glands. What if your skin has a lesion, and the keratin is interrupted...

      Well, soap and water is "not nice stuff" too, if you need to wash your hands all the time, like doctors and nurses should do between meeting patients.

      This one gets filed in the "call me when we've been using it safely for 20 years" category. Until then I will stick to soap and water.

      It's also worth noting that this does not remove any bacteria, it just kills them... And also it probably doesn't work as well on dirty hands, the dirt would probably protect the bacteria from plasma reactions. So soap isn't obsolete yet.

  • Plasma Device Kills ... Skin In Seconds

    Sorry, but I always read it as this. And TFS is just a big bunch of white noise after this...

  • How about testing it on ppl with Psoriasis? This is suppose to be a genetic disease in the same fashion that all of the duodenal ulcers were called that we suddenly soaring in count. Oddly, all of the drug companies claimed it was genetic and came up with all sorts of drugs to solve the symptoms, but not the problem.

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