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Material Science Perspective On Coping With Infectious Diseases

Photo by Sarah Pflug from Burst


The fight against infectious diseases and virus such as COVID-19 has taken many forms. The transmission of diseases and viruses has been the subject of much discussion across the world for many years. And this discussion has ramped up over the past 18 months or so. Coronaviruses are airborne in their nature. But, as we have seen, the droplets in the air that carry the virus land on surfaces. And we can easily contract the virus from contact with these surfaces.

And this is why materials science has taken a leading role in combat with the virus. Vaccinations and ventilation only go so far. In addition, let’s be clear, the global interconnectivity of the world means that we are more at risk then ever from viruses taking hold and passing quickly across the planet. So, with this in mind, let’s take a look at a material science perspective on coping with infectious diseases and what that means for us.

What Is The Issue?

With tens of millions of cases and hundreds of thousands of deaths, COVID has shown us how quickly a virus can be transmitted through a population. We have also seen the adaptability of a virus if we don’t deal with it rapidly and effectively. New variants have made the task of containing COVID-19 a logistical nightmare. Do the governments of the richest nations vaccinate their own population first? Or do they share their vaccines globally to slow or even stop the rise of new variants? What are the best methods of containing a virus such as this?

Well, the materials we use all around us can provide some of the answers as well as giving us a brighter future. The sequence and structure of a virus is key to managing transmission. This, alongside science such as gene sequencing, allows us to better understand how each virus is made up – and how to deal with it.

How Do We Protect Ourselves?

A virus will replicate inside a living cell and then can be passed by many different methods –

  • Bodily fluids such as saliva
  • Direct contact between people
  • Food
  • The air we breathe
  • Exposure to contaminated blood
  • From a pregnant woman to her unborn child

Because of these factors, the social distancing and personal protection advocated by governments across the world are the most effective methods to stay safe.

Masks have developed from a piece of fabric across the face to something more sophisticated and effective. And the materials used in these masks go further than simply creating a barrier. Surgical masks contain three layers of protection. The first, outer layer is to stop liquid splashes reaching the nose and mouth. The second layer is the physical barrier between the wearer and viruses. The inner layer absorbs moisture in the breath of the wearer. These three together keep the medical profession safe, as well as all those around them.

But this isn’t the only role materials play in managing the pandemic.

The Air We Breathe

One of the biggest danger points is breathing air that has been contaminated by someone with the virus. And we have found it difficult to manage this method of transmission. Opening a window has been a suggestion by health departments. But this isn’t always possible. That’s when we look to materials science for some answers.

Innovative providers such as ACLIV have developed air filters that use materials designed to catch and kill the coronavirus as well as other viruses and bacteria. This means a simple change such as the materials we use in our air filters can transform the safety of an indoor space. They can be used in the home, schools, public transport, offices, hospitals and the hospitality sector among others.

Detecting Infected Patients

One of the biggest challenges for the medical profession is detecting which patients are infected. With a large proportion of those infected being asymptomatic, it isn’t simply a case of watching for the usual signs you have of illness.

Viral proteins in the body are strong indicators of the presence of viruses. Immunoassays and nucleic-acid-amplification tests using PCR are extensively used and are dependable approaches for detecting viral proteins and nucleic acids. Again, the materials we use change the way we live for the better.

Taking Antiviral With You

Heath advice has been to take antibacterial hand gels with you for the times in between you are able to wash your hands. But those gaps between opportunities to handwash can be substantial for many people. Other solutions using materials come to the fore here. And we need to remember that antibacterial is different to antiviral – and the best solution is something that is both of these.

The ACLIV Pouch is an antiviral and antibacterial pouch where users can store their items in a completely safe place. It kills 99.9% of viruses and bacteria so is the ideal location for face masks, cosmetics, medicines, smartphone or anything else that we need to carry with us on a daily basis. The material that the pouch is made of ensures that all you put in it is rendered safe.

Not All Materials Are Antiviral

Now if we had to go around the world and replace all the materials around us with antiviral alternatives, the cost would be prohibitive. And the time involved, not to mention the wastage, would mean this task took decades, with perhaps never an end in sight.

But we don’t have to do this. Innovative solutions such as ACLIV Anti-Virus film can be applied to existing surfaces, making them safe for human contact. It adheres to exiting surfaces and is proven to kill viruses and bacteria. The material used is effective against COVID-19, H1N1 and influenza as well as other bacteria and viruses.

It is by using the cutting edge of material science that we can take the fight against COVID to the next level. Simply covering our faces and staying two metres from each other hasn’t worked as effectively as we would like. Let’s look at the next steps to deliver a safe future for all.

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