Scientist makes improvements to surgical masks
Hyo-Jick Choi, a professor in the University of Alberta Department of Chemical and Materials Engineering, 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 originally designed to protect the wearer from infectious droplets in clinical settings, but it doesn’t help much to prevent the spread of respiratory diseases such as SARS or MERS or influenza,” says Choi.
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 handling 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, especially in an epidemic or pandemic situation. During the 2014-2015 season nearly 8,000 Canadians were hospitalized with the flu. That same year, deaths related to influenza in Canada reached an all-time high of nearly 600.
- Health Care