Scientists hope a material which they say can kill bacteria and viruses could be used in face masks to help tackle the outbreak of the new coronavirus.
The material features nanosilver, which has antibacterial properties, and was made using a process known as melt blowing. This makes polypropylene microfibers with a diameter of one micron, explained Alexander Zhanovich Medvedev, who worked on the project and leads a lab at the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences (SBRAS). It is not clear if the research had been published in a peer-reviewed journal.
Medvedev said in a statement that he and colleagues fitted their creation in the inner layer of a conventional three-layer medical mask.
Researchers tested the mask against the influenza A virus as well as the staphylococcus and E. coli bacteria, according to Nikolai Zakharovich Lyakhov, chief researcher at the Institute of Chemistry and Technology at the SBRAS.
When the team compared the new material with that of regular masks, ten thousand times more viruses passed through the latter.
Lyakhov said: "Our material kills, completely deactivates viruses." However, he added it's unclear exactly how it works, and this problem must be approached in separate research projects.
The team believe the material could protect people against influenza A for up to 10 hours, compared to regular masks which need to be changed every one to two hours.
The mask is reusable but would be more expensive than regular face masks, according to a news release from the Institute of Solid State Chemistry and Mechanochemistry of the SBRAS.
Lyakhov said he spoke to infectious disease specialists who said that as the cloth kills the influenza A virus, "then most likely other viruses that cause respiratory infections should be exposed to the same effect."
Medvedev said the team have developed a production line so prototypes can be made for testing by specialists.
Lyakhov is in close contact with partners in China, he said, and is willing to send samples there for testing.
Dr. Amesh Adalja, a scholar at the Center for Health Security at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health told Market Watch most people don't know how to use the masks correctly in order avoid catching infections. What's more, those rushing out to buy them could lead to supply shortages, meaning health care providers struggle to access them.
As there is no vaccine against novel coronavirus, the CDC asks the public to follow the usual steps to prevent the spread of respiratory viruses.
These include washing hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, particularly after using the bathroom, before eating, and after coughing, sneezing or blowing your nose. When sneezing or coughing, cover your mouth with a tissue or your elbow and throw away the tissue immediately. Try not to touch your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands. Stay at home if you are sick, and if you are well, avoid those who are ill. Objects and surfaces should be cleaned and disinfected regularly using spray or wipes.