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Virus war and the textile sector

• By Seshadri Ramkumar •

infection control gear

Photo courtesy University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Advanced textiles to apparel manufacturers are turning creative to support the fight against the invisible enemy.

As the coronavirus is a novel strain, vaccines and medications are not yet readily available to treat the infected, meaning good hygiene practices will play a greater part in preventing its transmission.

The textile sector has received greater attention from governments to work on a wartime footing and deliver important items such as face masks, nose shields, personnel protective equipment and wipes.

Major manufacturers like Nike and Apple to small business entities like First Line Technology LLC have geared up to deliver preventive countermeasures.

Creativity has become the name of the game. Apparel industries are repurposing their regular lines to create masks. Hanes Co. has come-up with a three-ply cotton structure that can be used as masks. 3M Co. has doubled its global production of N95 respirators to 1.1 billion, with a monthly production of 100 million.

Covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, is highly transmittable and is spread by air droplets and bodily fluids containing the virus. However, porous structures, like textiles, seem to be better to contain than hard surface.

Experts say the virus can stay on surfaces, like textiles, for 24 to 72 hours. But they get absorbed into the structure, which is important for containment. So single-use wipes and protective materials will be ideal; however, there is an acute shortage of these critical needs.

Dry and wet wipes

Dry and wet wipes could help to decontaminate surfaces. Dry wipes like FiberTect can play apart as a countermeasure tool.

“It is widely used as the primary dry decontamination method in hospitals and ambulances,” said Corey Collins, a training specialist for First Line Technology, which markets FiberTect. “Hospitals use it in bulk and in rolls, and ambulances use it in a kit called the FastGrab to do immediate decontamination of patients contaminated with a wide variety of substances.”

University laboratories are also contributing to the cause and using their 3D printing capabilities and machine tool laboratories to develop face masks and face shields. Additionally, they are providing available supplies from their laboratories such as gloves and face masks to the front-line defenders.

“For those who have PPE in laboratory, specifically disposable gloves and N95 face masks, we want to make an appeal for you to donate these materials to a campus-wide repository we can use to help resupply healthcare providers,” said Joseph Heppert, Texas Tech University’s vice president for research and innovation in an e-mail to the university campus community.

The textile sector needs to be collaborative at this critical juncture and use its ingenuity in coming up with supplies that are needed to save lives.

Dr. Seshadri Ramkumar, is a professor in Texas Tech University’s Nonwovens & Advanced Materials Laboratory. He may be reached at s.ramkumar@ttu.edu