Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : January 9th 2017 Contents A24 body & soul
guardian.co.tt Monday, January 9, 2017
New surgical mask can
kill viruses---with salt
A University of Alberta engineering researcher
has developed a new way to treat common sur-
gical masks so they are capable of trapping and
killing airborne viruses. His research findings
appear in the journal Scientific Reports, pub-
lished by Nature Publishing Group.
Hyo-Jick Choi, a professor in the University of
Alberta Department of Chemical and Materials En-
gineering, noticed that many people wear a simple
surgical-style mask for protection during outbreaks of
influenza or other potentially deadly viruses such as
severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) or Middle
East respiratory syndrome (MERS).
Trouble is, the masks weren't designed to prevent
the spread of viruses. "Surgical masks were origi-
nally designed to protect
the wearer from infectious
droplets in clinical settings,
but it doesn't help much to
prevent the spread of res-
piratory diseases such as
SARS or MERS or influenza,"
Airborne pathogens like
influenza are transmitted
in aerosol droplets when
we cough or sneeze. The
masks may well trap the
virus-laden droplets but
the virus is still infectious
on the mask. Merely han-
dling the mask opens up
new avenues for infection.
Even respirators designed
to protect individuals from
viral aerosols have the same
shortcoming---viruses trapped in respirators still pose
risks for infection and transmission.
Masks capable of killing viruses would save lives, es-
pecially in an epidemic or pandemic situation. During
the 2014-2015 season nearly 8,000 Canadians were
hospitalised with the flu. That same year, deaths relat-
ed to influenza in Canada reached an all-time high of
nearly 600. Knowing that the masks are inexpensive
and commonly used, Choi and his research team went
about exploring ways to improve the mask's filter. And
this is where a problem he is struggling with in one field
of research---the development of oral vaccines like a
pill or a lozenge---became a solution in another area.
A major hurdle in the development of oral vaccines
is that when liquid solutions dry, crystals form and
destroy the virus used in vaccines, rendering the
treatment useless. In a nifty bit of engineering judo,
Choi flipped the problem on its head and turned crys-
tallisation into a bug buster, using it as a tool to kill
Choi and his team developed a salt formulation and
applied it to the filters, in the hope that salt crystals
would "deactivate" the influenza virus.
The mechanics of simple chemistry make the
treatment work. When an aerosol droplet carrying
the influenza virus contacts the treated filter, the
droplet absorbs salt on the filter. The virus is exposed
to continually increasing concentrations of salt. As
the droplet evaporates, the virus suffers fatal physical
damage when the salt returns to its crystalised state.
While developing solid vaccines, Choi observed
that sugar used for stabilising the vaccine during
the drying process crystalises as it dries out. When
crystals form, sharp edges and spikes take shape and
they physically destroy the virus vaccine.
"We realised that we could use that to our advantage
to improve surgical masks," said Choi.
In a series of experiments and tests at the University
of Alberta and in the Department of Medical Zoolo-
Professor Hyo-Jick Cho of the University of Alberta has developed a new way to
treat surgical masks which helps them kill viruses.
YOUR DAILY HEALTH
News and advice
gy at the Kyung Hee University School of Medicine
in Seoul, South Korea, the team arrived at a perfect
treatment that improves the efficacy of the fibre filter
inside the masks.
By using a safe substance (table salt) to improve an
existing, approved product, Choi sees very few road-
blocks to implementing the innovation.
The research was funded by the University of Al-
berta. Choi has been awarded a provisional patent for
the development of virus deactivation systems based
on the salt-crystallisation mechanism.
(Story Source: University of Alberta)
Choi and his team
developed a salt
applied it to the
filters, in the
hope that salt
The mechanics of
When an aerosol
virus contacts the
treated filter, the
salt on the filter.
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