Face masks that kill viruses on contact arrive

Face masks that kill viruses on contact arrive

Researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in New York have developed methods that give antiviral and antibacterial properties to N95 face mask filters. They found that incorporating materials with antiviral properties into face masks improved their ability to protect against infection while their prolonged wear time reduced plastic waste.

The face masks were created incorporating metal nanomaterials such as copper in the filter fibers capable of deactivating viruses. However, concerns over metal nanomaterials detaching from the mask filter in rough use and inhaled, causing toxicity, prompted another set of researchers to come out with polycations.

Polycations — long-chain molecules with a net positive charge — can be used instead of metal nanomaterials to endow surfaces with antiviral activity. They kill bacteria and viruses upon contact by disrupting their cell membranes. The method confers antimicrobial properties to polypropylene fabric, which is commonly used as a filtration material in N95 masks.

“The process that we developed uses a really simple chemistry to create this non-leaching polymer coating (on top of the N95 mask filter material) that can kill viruses and bacteria by essentially breaking open their outer layer.” Dr. Helen Zha, assistant professor of chemical and biological engineering at Rensselaer and co-author of the new face mask research, said.

The researchers found that the polymer-coated polypropylene could deactivate several lipid-enveloped viruses, as well as Staphylococcus aureus and Escherichia coli bacteria, upon contact.

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