The COVID-19 pandemic is not over yet, but as time goes by, scientists are learning more and more about the virus — and the various ways we can prevent it, including new and improved masks.
A new membrane-based breathing mask developed by researchers can capture and inactivate sarS-CoV-2 spike proteins upon contact with them. These spike proteins allow the virus to enter the host cell once inside the body.
According to tests, the new masks can filter out almost 99 percent of the targeted airborne particles, providing the wearer with an important additional layer of protection against infection.
“The new material filters out the virus like an N95 mask, but also includes an antiviral enzyme that completely inactivates the virus,” says Dibakar Bhattacharyya, a chemical engineer at the University of Kentucky.
“This innovation is another layer of protection against SARS-COV-2 and helps prevent transmission of the virus.”
After working with the manufacturer to develop the membrane, the researchers tested it using the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein that was fixed to the synthetic particle. It blocks the passage of coronavirus-sized aerosols while also destroying spike proteins within 30 seconds of contact.
The film can be adjusted according to its thickness and porosity, leaving open the possibility for further improvements in the future. This means that the type of particles filtered out by the membrane can be carefully controlled.
According to the team, masks using the membrane can be worn for up to two hours a day for several days without affecting air permeability. This means masks don’t have to be changed as often, so fewer used masks need to be disposed of over time.
“Innovatively developed smart filtration materials with low airflow resistance that can filter, capture, and inactivate aerosolized virus particles could provide tremendous benefits to human health and industrial workplaces,” the researchers wrote in their published paper.
The new masks offer greater protection than the N95 standard, which is certified to filter out 95 percent of particulate matter (hence the name). N95 masks have three or four layers of fiber, plus a charged filter layer.
Currently, N95 masks are the most commonly used mask in the medical industry, but there is still room for improvement. Using their new mask, the researchers achieved a 98.9 percent detection rate for 100-nanometer aerosol particles, including those that carry SARS-COV-2.
What the researchers aren’t saying is how long it will take to get this material out of the lab into a mask that you can actually go out and buy — although given its promised effects, we hope it’s sooner than later.
“The use of a respirator mask can significantly reduce coronavirus transmission, as virus transmission has been shown to occur primarily through two modes of transmission: droplet transmission and inhalation of infectious aerosols,” the researchers wrote.