Masks, gowns, and other personal protective equipment (PPE) are essential for protecting healthcare workers. However, the textiles and materials used in such items can absorb and carry viruses and bacteria, inadvertently spreading the disease the wearer sought to contain.
When the coronavirus spread among healthcare professionals and left PPE in short supply, finding a way to provide better protection, while allowing for the safe reuse of these items, became paramount.
Research from the LAMP Lab at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering may have a solution. The lab has created a textile coating that not only can repel liquids such as blood and saliva but also can prevent viruses from adhering to the surface.
“Recently there’s been focus on blood-repellent surfaces, and we were interested in achieving this with mechanical durability,” said Anthony Galante, Ph.D. student in industrial engineering at Pitt. “We want to push the boundary on what is possible with these types of surfaces, and especially given the current pandemic, we knew it’d be important to test against viruses.”
What makes the coating unique is its ability to withstand ultrasonic washing, scrubbing, and scraping. With other similar coatings currently in use, washing or rubbing the surface of the textile will reduce or eliminate its repellent abilities.
“The durability is very important because there are other surface treatments out there, but they’re limited to disposable textiles. You can only use a gown or mask once before disposing of it,” said Paul Leu, associate professor of industrial engineering who leads the LAMP Lab. “Given the PPE shortage, there is a need for coatings that can be applied to reusable medical textiles that can be properly washed and sanitized.”
Galante put the new coating to the test, running it through tens of ultrasonic washes, applying thousands of rotations with a scrubbing pad (not unlike what might be used to scour pots and pans), and even scraping it with a sharp razor blade. After each test, the coating remained just as effective.
The coating may have broad applications in healthcare. Everything from hospital gowns to waiting room chairs could benefit from the ability to repel viruses.