Bugs, Bulbs and Better Health!?
In the developing world, light bulbs are efficient at attracting insects. The blue wavelengths of LED lights are attractive to a range of insects. This attraction is what draws them right into our people’s homes. In short, the type of bulb you use can actually increase the risk of catching vector-borne diseases.
According to University of Southern California researchers, six million people worldwide, mostly in Latin America, are infected with Chagas disease. Chagas is transmitted by a bug attracted to lights. Sand flies, also attracted to light, infect people with a protozoan parasite responsible for 20,000 deaths annually. And mosquitos, which carry malaria, are documented to be attracted to light.
A new study led by a University of Southern California environmental science professors and published in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B has found that ‘what matters most isn’t just how bright your bulb is, but what color wavelengths it gives off.’
“Future LED bulb designs could be customized to be less attractive to specific insect species,” said Travis Longcore, associate professor of spatial sciences at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. The white light given off by bulbs is attractive to all insects, but “white” isn’t actually a color—it’s a combination of light of all colors. Blue, violet and ultraviolet wavelengths are especially attractive to moths and other insect groups. These wavelengths can also be disruptive to human circadian rhythms thus interfering with sleep patterns.
Longcore and a team of his former students from UCLA tested to see if they could “mitigate these effects” as part of a research project with Philips Research in the Netherlands. Their primary goal was reducing the number of insects an LED bulb can attract while still maintaining white light for indoor use. Collaborator André Barroso, a senior scientist at Philips, provided the bulbs.
“For the purpose of this study, we created unique and one-off LED lamp designs that can be customized to emit different color wavelengths to reduce the attraction of insects,” Barroso said. “This is where lighting meets health and well-being.”