Tag Archives: Mask

Masks made of ostrich cells make COVID-19 glow in the dark

In the two years that SARS‑CoV‑2 has ravaged across the globe, it has caused immeasurable human loss. But we as a species have been able to create monumental solutions amidst great adversity. The latest achievement involves a standard face mask that can detect COVID-19 in your breath, essentially making the pathogen visible.

A COVID-19 sample becomes apparent on a mask filter under ultraviolet light. Image credits: Kyoto Prefectural University.

Japanese researchers at Kyoto Prefectural University have created a mask that glows in the dark if COVID-19 is detected in a person’s breath or spit. They did this by coating masks with a mixture containing ostrich antibodies that react when they contact the SARS‑CoV‑2 virus. The filters are then removed from the masks and sprayed with a chemical that makes COVID-19 (if present) viewable using a smartphone or a dark light. The experts hope that their discovery could provide a low-cost home test to detect the virus.

Yasuhiro Tsukamoto, veterinary professor and president of Kyoto Prefectural University, explains the benefits of such a technology: “It’s a much faster and direct form of initial testing than getting a PCR test.”

Tsukamoto notes that it could help those infected with the virus but who show no symptoms and are unlikely to get tested — and with a patent application and plans to commercialize inspection kits and sell them in Japan and overseas within the next year, the test appears to have a bright future. However, this all hinges on large-scale testing of the mask filters and government approval for mass production. 

Remarkably, this all came with a little help from ostriches.

The ostrich immune system is one of the most potent on Earth

To make each mask, the scientists injected inactive SARS‑CoV‑2 into female ostriches, in effect vaccinating them. Scientists then extracted antibodies from the eggs the ostriches produced, as the yolk transfers immunity to the offspring – the same way a vaccinated mother conveys disease resistance to her infant through the placenta. 

An ostrich egg yolk is perfect for this job as it is nearly 24 times bigger than a chicken’s, allowing a more significant number of antibodies to form. Additionally, immune cells are also produced far more quickly in these birds—taking a mere six weeks, as opposed to chickens, where it takes twelve.

Because ostriches have an extremely efficient immune system, thought to be the strongest of any animal on the planet, they can rapidly produce antibodies to fight an enormous range of bacteria and viruses, with a 2012 study in the Brazilian Journal of Microbiology showing they could stop Staphylococcus aureus and E. coli in their tracks – experts also predict that this bird will be instrumental in fending off epidemics in the future.

Tsukamoto himself has published numerous studies using ostrich immune cells harvested from eggs to help treat a host of health conditions, from swine flu to hair loss.

Your smartphone can image COVID-19 with this simple test

The researchers started by creating a mask filter coated with a solution of the antibodies extracted from ostriches’ eggs that react with the COVID-19 spike protein. After they had a working material, a small consort of 32 volunteers wore the masks for eight hours before the team removed the filters and sprayed them with a chemical that caused COVID-19 to glow in the dark. Scientists repeated this for ten days. Masks worn by participants infected with the virus glowed around the nose and mouth when scientists shone a dark light on them.

In a promising turn, the researchers found they could also use a smartphone LED light to detect the virus, which would considerably widen the scope of testing across the globe due to its ease of use. Essentially, it means that the material could be used to the fullest in a day-to-day setting without any additional equipment.

“We also succeeded in visualizing the virus antigen on the ostrich antibody-carrying filter when using the LED ultraviolet black light and the LED light of the smartphone as the light source. This makes it easy to use on the mask even at home.”

To further illustrate the practicability of the test, Tsukamoto told the Kyodo news agency he discovered he was infected with the virus after he wore one of the diagnostic masks. The diagnosis was also confirmed using a laboratory test, after which authorities quarantined him at a hotel.

Next, the team aims to expand the trial to 150 participants and develop the masks to glow automatically without special lighting. Dr. Tsukamoto concludes: “We can mass-produce antibodies from ostriches at a low cost. In the future, I want to make this into an easy testing kit that anyone can use.”

Researchers document how asymptomatic COVID-19 cases unknowingly spread the coronavirus

study published mid-April reported that people infected with SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus causing COVID-19, might be most contagious during the period before they have symptoms. Two studies published in late May showed that a high percentage of people with COVID-19 could be without symptoms.

In one study, Australian researchers reported that 104 of 128 people (81 percent) on a cruise ship who tested positive for the novel coronavirus were asymptomatic. In another study, researchers in Wuhan, China reported that 33 of 78 people (42 percent) who tested positive for COVID-19 were without symptoms.

Most recently, a multicenter study published in Travel Medicine and Infectious Disease shows that 60% of asymptomatic (symptom-free) COVID-19 patients in Sichuan province, China, were diagnosed as having pneumonia on their first computed tomography (CT) scan.

The study involved 100 asymptomatic and 411 symptomatic coronavirus patients in hospitals in 21 cities and 47 counties or districts from Jan 25 to Feb 20. The investigators also found that patients without symptoms were younger and came from higher-altitude areas with less resident mobility and more defined epidemiologic history than patients with symptoms but had similar rates of underlying conditions.

Of the 100 well-documented asymptomatic cases, 17 (27.4%) later developed symptoms, two of the older patients developed severe symptoms during hospitalization. No asymptomatic patients died. One patient was believed to have transmitted the virus during the incubation period.

In a May 30 letter to the editor published in Influenza and Other Respiratory Viruses, public health experts describe a likely asymptomatic COVID-19 spread in a household and school after travelers returned to Brunei after attending a religious event in Malaysia from Feb 28 to Mar 2.

Of the more than 4,000 confirmed cases linked to the event, 19 from Brunei tested positive for COVID-19 and infected 52 others. According to the researchers, this is the first report documenting the role of asymptomatic SARS‐CoV‐2 transmission in the propagation of a large superspreading event.

The authors said that their findings support the use of testing and longitudinal surveillance of asymptomatic close contacts, as well as widespread testing at mass gatherings in places with known community spread.

US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention | Your cloth face covering may protect them. Their cloth face covering may protect you.

All these studies strengthen the argument for people to wear masks. After first telling the public there was no need for people to wear a mask unless they were sick or coughing, the US CDC revised their position. Since early April, the agency has recommended that in addition to physical distancing measures, people should wear a face covering if they go to a public place in settings where physical distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies) especially in areas of significant community-based transmission. They have posted instructions on how to properly wear a cloth mask.


Hamsters confirm — face masks work against the coronavirus

New research in Hong Kong re-confirms that the use of face masks can stop the spread of COVID-19 — even for hamsters.

Image via Pixabay.

Everyone is understandably anxious to get out of the house and resume normal life. But the coronavirus hasn’t left, not at all, and resuming normal life means we have to take precautions. The wide-scale use of face masks is the simplest and most effective step we can take towards ensuring public health. And hamsters are helping prove its worth.

Safely masked

“It’s very clear that the effect of masking the infected, especially when they are asymptomatic — or symptomatic — it’s much more important than anything else,” Yuen told reporters Sunday.

“It also explained why universal masking is important because we now have known that a large number of those infected have no symptoms.”

The team claims that their research (not yet published) is the first to test whether masks specifically can stop COVID-19, both symptomatic and asymptomatic, from infecting other individuals.

The authors infected healthy hamsters with the virus and placed these animals in containers. In another container connected to the first one, they placed a healthy hamster, thus creating an opportunity for infection. A fan was used to blow air from the infected animal’s container into the neighboring one.

Then, they placed a surgical face mask in the space connecting these two in order to filter all airflow between them.

According to the results, two-thirds (10 out of a 15 total) of the healthy mice were infected within a week without the masks set in place (and without any direct physical contact between the healthy and unhealthy). However, after the masks were installed, transmission rates went down by as much as 75%.

The findings have been detailed on the Hong Kong Today show and in the South China Morning Post. According to the SCMP,” only two of 12 subjects in the adjoining cage” (16.7%) tested positive for the coronavirus when masks were placed on the infected hamster’s box. When the masks were applied only to the cage with healthy hamsters, 4 out of 12 (33%) became infected.

“Transmission can be reduced by 50% when surgical masks are used, especially when masks are worn by infected individuals,” Professor Yuen explained for SCMP.

Furthermore, hamsters that did become infected during the masked experiments showed lower levels of the virus within their body than those infected without a mask.

Sew face masks out of cotton and chiffon or natural silk to protect against COVID-19

A new study from the University of Chicago reports that a multi-layered mask made from cotton fabric and chiffon or natural silk can be just as effective as N95 masks against the coronavirus.

Image credits Alexandra Gerea.

There just aren’t enough masks to go around, and those that we do have should be earmarked for healthcare workers. How, then, are we to keep ourselves safe in the great (and pandemic) outdoors? Well, according to one new study, we should do like our forefathers before us — and sew!

The authors analyzed the filtration properties of fabrics against aerosols (the main method of transmission for the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus) and reported on the types of materials to use in order to create an effective mask.

Cotton and chiffon

Although the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the use of face masks whenever going outside, the reality on the ground is that such equipment is often in short supply. Surgical masks are somewhat easier to come by, but they are much less effective than filtering masks such as the N95 model (although they’re still useful).

The real problem is that every mask we use is one that’s no longer available for the healthcare sector, and the medical personnel fighting to help the infected against the disease need such masks to be able to continue doing their jobs. So people have started making their own, which is awesome. Researchers are now pitching in, too, and are informing us of the best way, and the best materials, to use when making our masks.

Coronavirus is spread through saliva droplets that form aerosols when we breathe, talk, or cough. The heavier droplets fall to the floor, but the lighter ones remain in suspension around us and can travel (and infect) up to 4 meters away.

The team, led by Molecular Engineering Professor Supratik Guha, used an aerosol mixing chamber to produce particles ranging in diameter from 10 nm to 6 μm in diameter, roughly the same interval of the size seen in coronavirus-carrying aerosols. A fan was used to force them through various textile samples (the fan was set to generate airflow comparable to that of a person’s respiration at rest), and the team compared particle levels in the air before and after passing through the material. The study was carried out at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Center for Nanoscale Materials user facility at Argonne National Laboratory with funding from the U.S. Department of Defense’s Vannevar Bush Fellowship.

Their results show that one layer of “tightly-woven” cotton combined with two layers of polyester-spandex chiffon (a type of sheer fabric most commonly seen in evening gowns — can filter out between 80% to 99% of all aerosol particles in a sample (depending on their size). Such performance, they add, is close to that of an N95 respirator mask.

The chiffon can be swapped for natural silk or flannel without losing filtering ability, or the whole thing can be replaced with a cotton quilt with cotton-polyester batting. The combination of two materials is important, however. The team explains that the cotton creates a physical barrier to incoming aerosol particles, while materials such as chiffon and natural silk can become charged, and serve as an electrostatic barrier.

Another thing to keep in mind is that it’s essential for such masks to be perfectly fitted. Even the slightest gap between the mask’s edges and the user’s skin can reduce their filtering efficiency by 60%.

The paper “Aerosol Filtration Efficiency of Common Fabrics Used in Respiratory Cloth Masks” has been published in the journal ACS Nano.

A 3D adapter can turn a snorkeling mask into a non-invasive ventilator

If there’s one thing that is in high-demand now across the globe, that’s ventilators. More than 400.000 cases of the virus have left many hospitals without stocks of this key medical equipment, which can help in artificial breathing when lungs fail to do it naturally.

Credit Issinova

Nevertheless, when resources lack, creativity and innovation rise, and that’s what has happened here. Influenced by a large number of cases in their country, a group of Italian engineers has developed and tested a 3D-printed adapter that can turn a snorkeling mask into a ventilator.

This is their second innovative creation since the start of the coronavirus outbreak in Italy. The engineers previously visited a hospital that didn’t have sufficient ventilator valves and, using a 3D printer, developed new ones and printed them in just a few hours. Following that first experience, the team was contacted by the former head physician of the Gardone Valtrompia Hospital.

“He shared with us an idea to address the possible shortage of hospital C-PAP masks, which is emerging as a concrete problem linked to the spread of COVID-19: an emergency ventilator mask,” they said.

The first step was finding a company that produced snorkeling masks and agree on a partnership. That was Decathlon, a French sporting goods company. Once they had the product, the engineers dismantled and studied it to check how to use a valve to connect the mask with the ventilator.

Other designers had already created 3D printable adapters to transform similar snorkeling masks into medical ones. The innovation by the Italian engineers was that the adapter could be modified for the mask to be connected as a ventilator, a key resource needed during the outbreak.

Once they had the new product, they tested it at the Chiari Hospital by connecting it to the ventilator body, proving it worked successfully. They also tested it on a patient with good results. Nevertheless, the invention should only be used in an emergency situation, the engineers warned.

“We are reiterating that the idea is designed for healthcare facilities and wants to help in realization of an emergency mask in the case of a full-blown difficult situation, where it is not possible to find official healthcare supplies. Neither the mask nor the link is certified and their use is subject to a situation of mandatory need,” they said.

The engineers patented the valve that connects the mask and the ventilator so as to avoid speculation on the price. The patent is free as the objective is “that all hospitals in need could use it if necessary,” they said. They also shared the file required to create the valve with a 3D printer, which they claim is easy to manufacture, on their website.

This means that any healthcare facility that needs ventilators can purchase the Decathlon mask and then produce the valve in any local 3D printing facility. “Our initiative is totally non-profit, we will not obtain any royalties on the idea of the link, nor on the sales of Decathlon masks,” they said.

Similar initiatives can be seen in other parts of the world, using 3D printers. In Spain, also severely affected by the outbreak, a group of engineers and doctors have partnered up to develop low-cost respirators and print as much personal protective equipment as possible.

Masks and gloves won’t keep you from getting infected — save them for the doctors

Stop buying masks and gloves — you very probably aren’t using them properly, and even if you did, you don’t need them.

Image via Pixabay.

Surgical masks and gloves won’t keep you safe from the coronavirus unless used properly and are unnecessary for the vast majority of people. Worse yet, panic-buying of these items has left stocks depleted for medical personnel, who rely on items such as gloves and masks to keep themselves and their patients alive.

Not only are these items ineffective in preventing infection with the coronavirus for most people (because of improper use), but they’re also unnecessary for the vast majority of the public, explained France24 on Tuesday.

Despite growing concerns about the virus globally — countries like Italy, Spain, and France have imposed total lockdowns — the World Health Organization is sticking to its initial advice: wash your hands, don’t touch your face, and keep your distance. And, while the WHO does state that wearing a protective mask in public is advisable if you think you’re infected, or if interacting with someone who is, staying home would be the ideal course of action in both cases.

Wearing masks and gloves is not a reliable way to protect yourself from the virus, according to the WHO.

“There are limits to how a mask can protect you from being infected and we’ve said the most important thing everyone can do is wash your hands, keep your hands away from your face, observe very precise hygiene,” said WHO’s emergencies director Mike Ryan.

The WHO estimates that health workers worldwide will need at least 89 million masks every month to treat the current outbreak. There are already shortages being reported around the world, leaving the healthcare system — the very line of defense we rely on in such cases — completely exposed.

“I’m surprised to see through the window in my ministry lots of people in the street wearing masks when that doesn’t correspond to our recommendations,” French health minister Olivier Veran told France24.

Experts also say that masks can give people a false sense of security. Most people who wear them don’t follow the proper procedure of first washing their hands, then ensuring the mask is airtight and not touching it after it’s on. People tend to readjust their masks quite frequently, which can contaminate them with the virus. Gloves, similarly, don’t greatly heighten protection and could even end up making you sick.

“If people cannot stop touching their face, gloves will not serve a purpose,” Amesh Adalja, from Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told AFP. “Gloves are not a substitute for washing your hands.”

Medical masks as good as respirators against the flu, viruses

It pays to have a medical mask on hand during flu season.

Image credits Paul Keller / Flickr.

New research reports finding “no significant difference in the effectiveness” of medical masks vs. N95 respirators for prevention of influenza or other viral respiratory illness.

One dime mask

“This study showed there is no difference in incidence of viral respiratory transmission among health care workers wearing the two types of protection,” said Dr. Trish Perl, Chief of UT Southwestern’s Division of Infectious Diseases and Geographic Medicine and the report’s senior author.

“This finding is important from a public policy standpoint because it informs about what should be recommended and what kind of protective apparel should be kept available for outbreaks.”

Nurses, doctors, and other medical personnel who come into direct contact with patients are frequently exposed to contagious diseases such as influenza (flu). During large outbreaks (such as the H1N1 pandemic of 2009) as many as one in three healthcare workers could contract the disease they’re fighting against, says Dr. Perl.

During that pandemic, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended the use of N95 respirators, designed to fit closely over the nose and mouth and filter at least 95% of airborne particles. The looser-fitting surgical masks routinely worn by healthcare workers were considered insufficient, Dr. Perl said, but there weren’t enough of N95 filters for every facility.

The new study came to follow-up on previous research comparing the masks and respirators, which yielded mixed results. The team used data from several Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals and multiple medical institutions in seven cities including Houston, Denver, Washington, and New York, collected with the help of multiple universities throughout the USA. The figures pertained to the four flu seasons between 2011 and 2015, examining the incidence of flu and acute respiratory illnesses in the almost 2,400 health care workers who completed the study.

The team reports that 207 laboratory-confirmed influenza infections occurred in the N95 groups versus 193 among medical mask wearers. In addition, they found 2,734 cases of influenza-like symptoms, laboratory-confirmed respiratory illnesses, and acute or laboratory-detected respiratory infections (where the worker may not have felt ill) in the N95 groups, compared with 3,039 such events among medical mask wearers.

“It was a huge and important study — the largest ever done on this issue in North America,” says Dr. Perl.

“The takeaway is that […] one type of protective equipment is not superior to the other,” she adds. “Facilities have several options to provide protection to their staff — which include surgical masks — and can feel that staff are protected from seasonal influenza. Our study supports that in the outpatient setting there was no difference between the tested protections.”

The team plans to investigate the dynamics of virus transmission in the future, in order to better understand how to protect medical personnel from them.

The paper “N95 Respirators vs Medical Masks for Preventing Influenza Among Health Care Personnel” has been published in the journal JAMA.