As the pandemic continues with its virulent spread, many start-ups and research institutions have started making facemasks and personal protective equipment (PPE) out of anti-microbial fabric. We enumerate some being developed to effectively fight the novel coronavirus.

As the world faces a stressful time with the rise of the coronavirus pandemic, research is being carried out for effective ways to prevent, treat and cure it. Till now, medical experts and scientists have not found a clinical solution to eradicate the pandemic. Meanwhile, many organisations across the globe, including the World Health Organisation (WHO), the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Indian health ministry, have recommended people to wear face masks in public places, especially when it is hard to keep physical distance from each other, to prevent or slow down the spread of the deadly virus.

So people are now increasingly wearing facemasks in public places. However, most such commercial masks only block the viral particles and do not kill them. A used and discarded mask can even become a vector for the infection and multiply in its fabric. For this reason, many start-ups and research institutions have started making facemasks and personal protective equipment (PPE) out of anti-microbial fabrics.

Swiss Innovator HeiQ has launched an anti-viral and antimicrobial textile treatment called HeiQ Viroblock NPJ0, which has been proven effective against the coronavirus (229E) in face mask testing. Chief executive officer of HeiQ Carlo Centonze said the mask developed with their technology significantly reduces the effect of the virus. Additionally, it reduces better infection against several types of influenza viruses like H1N1, H5N1, H7N9 and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). The technology can be applied to a wide spectrum of textile products like masks, gloves, gowns and PPE.

A report in ILTV Israel News channel said Israeli company Sonovia has created a washable anti-viral fabric that kills bacteria and viruses upon contact. The company uses sound waves to impregnate the surface of the fabric with metallic nanoparticles like zinc oxide and copper oxide into the textile for face masks and other PPE items. The developed anti-viral fabrics were tested on a virus similar to the novel coronavirus, showing that the treated material can likely destroy coronaviruses a few minutes after contact with the fabric. Further, the company has developed a face mask called ‘Sonomask’ using this technology that remains effective even when the face mask is washed up to 100 times.

According to Sonovia, the mask filters 98 per cent of particles of up to 5 microns in compliance with WHO standards. The filtering rate is higher than the capabilities of the N95 mask. Large quantities of Sonomask were donated to hospitals in Israel and Germany, and to non-profit charitable organisations in Israel, France, Germany, South Africa and Australia.

Another Israeli company Argaman has developed an anti-viral mask called ‘Bioblock’. This not only blocks the virus but also kills 99 per cent of all viruses, including the coronavirus. This mask is a five-layer hypoallergenic (unlikely to cause an allergenic reaction) anti-microbial face mask made from cotton, copper and cutting-edge materials. It is commercially available now and costs $50.

To safeguard healthcare workers and citizens from coronavirus, Indian synthetic, cotton and worsted textile company Grado has launched an anti-viral and anti-bacterial fabric that can repel viruses and shield the wearer from infection by using neotech technology.This fabric can retain its properties for up to 50 washes and is suited for everyday wear. It can be tailored into garments like suits, jackets and trousers as required by customers. Launched earlier, the fabric’s resistance to bacteria and viruses has been raised by the company.

Recently, Nanosafe Solutions, a start-up of the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT)-Delhi, launched an anti-microbial and washable face mask called ‘Nsafe mask’, which can be reused for up to 50 launderings. Nsafe mask is a highly engineered triple-layered product consisting of an inner hydrophilic layer for comfort, a middle layer having antimicrobial activity and the outermost layer having water and oil repellent behaviour. Additionally, the mask has 99.2 per cent bacterial filtration efficiency (at 3 microns) with good breathability and splash resistance.

Apart from face masks, PPE are being designed to protect the wearer from infectious microbes. In general, these PPE cannot prevent the spread of microbes as the surface of the fabric readily allows adherence and accumulation of microbes with time. This leads to further spread of the microbes due to negligent handling of PPE and wrong disposal protocols. NDTV reported that a team of researchers from IIT-Guwahati has developed an affordable antimicrobial spray-based coating for PPE kits to kill and prevent the spread of microbes once they come in contact with the coated PPE surface.

Meanwhile, IIT-Madras has also developed a technology that can coat nanoparticle-based anti-microbial agent on the fabric used to make PPE. These coatings are expected to be effective for up to 60 wash cycles. The coated textiles can be used to manufacture PPE like N95 masks, surgical masks and food bags.

The anti-microbial fabrics add protection to the wearer and do not fully block the infection. That is something that protects people better but is not enough. People still have to wash their hands, wear face mask and adhere to social distancing norms.












This article was first published in the July 2020 edition of the print magazine.