PLASMA HEALTH CARE – AIMS, CONSTRAINTS AND PROGRESS
G.E. Morfill, J.L. Zimmerman
Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics
Health Care covers three areas of interest for cold atmospheric pressure plasmas: Cosmetics, Hygiene and Medicine. These areas can be subdivided into personal and professional care. In this review will concentrate on Hygiene and Medicine. In professional hygiene the most important plasma contribution is sterilization, decontamination and disinfection. The main aim is the prevention of diseases or their containment. Progress in the development of efficient bactericidal plasma sources has been rapid, so that it appears realistic to use plasmas to combat nosocomial infections as well as community associated infections in the not too distant future. The advantages of plasma devices – they use air and electricity only, there are no waste products, they are inexpensive to manufacture and operate, easy to transport and install, and bactericidal effects are fast (seconds). Plasmas can efficiently kill resistant bacteria (e.g. MRSA) and tests have shown no resistance build-up so far. With an estimated 2 Million hospital induced infections each year in the US alone, and about 100.000 resulting deaths, very efficient, safe and fast hospital plasma hygiene devices would appear to be a very important weapon to help contain the spread of infectious diseases.
In Medicine there are a number of ambitious ideas and aims. Plasmas can be “designed” to some extent. They can include different active species that can have an effect at the cellular level. There are ionic atoms and molecules, whose medical use need to be evaluated – the vision is that a new area of “plasma pharmacy” could develop. First steps are currently being taken in biological studies. Also the excited atoms in cold atmospheric plasmas may make cell walls more permeable for such species.