Adding a special "spiky" coating to surfaces can kill bacteria and viruses, research suggests.
The coating inactivated the influenza virus
US scientists found painting on spike-like structures kept the surfaces infection-free.
The spikes, they believe, rupture bacteria and virus particles on contact, inactivating them.
The team, writing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggest their findings could help to fight the spread of diseases.
The researchers painted glass with long chains of molecules, called polymers, which anchored to the surface to form tentacle-like spikes.
When the team then applied the surfaces with E. coli and Staphylococcus aureus (both common disease-causing forms of bacteria) and the influenza virus, they found the coating killed them with 100% efficiency within minutes.
The scientists said they believed the tethered spikes were inactivating the particles by rupturing their surfaces.
The team, based at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, said many diseases were spread by particles that settle on surfaces and are subsequently touched by others.
They said the spread of infection could be prevented if common things encountered by people are coated with paints that inactivated the disease particles.
"In terms of virucidal and bactericidal efficiencies, painting with [this polymer] seems optimal.
"Given the simplicity of the coating procedure, it should be applicable to various common materials, thereby enabling them to interrupt the spread of both viral and bacterial infections."
Professor Ian Jones, a microbiologist from Reading University, said: "This is an interesting paper, from the point of view that it is a new and simple approach to fighting infection that seems to be effective against both bacteria and viruses."
However, he said he was less convinced the spikes were piercing the particles and thought another, more chemical, mechanism could be at play.
"The other thing that is important to find out is the longevity of the effect. If a toilet door handle, for example, is coated with this material, would it last for days, hours, weeks? It would be vital to know how often it needs to be applied."