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 amongst 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.
Researchers have created a textile coating that can not only repel liquids like blood and saliva but can also prevent viruses from adhering to the surface. 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.
To test the new coating, the team ran 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.
Since the fabric was already shown to repel blood, protein, and bacteria, the logical next step was to determine whether it repels viruses. The researchers chose human adenovirus types 4 and 7, as these are causes of acute respiratory disease as well as conjunctivitis (pink eye). The fabric repelled those viruses similar to how it repels proteins, which these viruses essentially are: proteins with nucleic acid inside.
The coating may have broad applications in healthcare — everything from hospital gowns to waiting room chairs could benefit from the ability to repel viruses, particularly ones as easily spread as adenoviruses, which can be picked up inadvertently in hospital waiting rooms and from contaminated surfaces.
The next step is to test the effectiveness against betacoronaviruses, like the one that causes COVID-19. If the treated fabric can repel betacornonaviruses — in particular, SARS-CoV-2 — it could have a huge impact for healthcare workers and even the general public if PPE, scrubs, or even clothing could be made from protein, blood-, bacteria-, and virus-repelling fabrics.
At the moment, the coating is applied using drop casting, a method that saturates the material with a solution from a syringe and applies a heat treatment to increase stability. The team believes the process can use a spraying or dipping method to accommodate larger pieces of material, like gowns, and can eventually be scaled up for production.