Salt coated masks created by biomedical engineer could neutralize viruses

The general thinking that masks are a great safety measure to prevent one from getting or spreading a cold or virus is a misconception scientists tell us.

The reason is because masks are usually impossible to keep on properly. Those who wear them are constantly touching them to readjust, scratch their faces or take them off and then put them back on regularly not realizing that all of these actions can encourage germs on the surface of the mask to enter the body.

Unfortunately, experts are saying that for most of us outside of Wuhan, China where the coronavirus outbreak started, wearing a face mask may not necessarily protect us from the virus.

However, a biomedical engineer and professor at the University of Alberta in Canada, Hyo-Jick Choi, may have a potential solution: using table salt to cover a mask to kill harmful pathogens like a virus rather than just blocking them. That’s because the molecular structure of sale has a crystalline shape and therefore its sharp corners are able to pierce the viruses, making them unviable.

Choi and his team of researchers have been for the last few years testing salt-coated masks and have discovered that they can make three strains of the influenza virus inactive. Choi’s team published their findings in 2017 in the Scientific Reports journal.

Choi’s team hopes to be able to market the masks within the next 18 months with the hopes that their pathogen-neutralizing technology will help in the significant improvement in infectious-disease prevention efforts.

So how does a salt-coated mask actually work?

Viruses are spread through the air in saliva or phlegm droplets when people cough, sneeze, speak or even breath or on surfaces.

When a droplet carrying a virus or other pathogen encounters Choi’s salt solution on the mask, it begins to absorb the salt. Then once it evaporates what remains is the virus and the crystallized salt. The crystallized salt then slices through the virus and neutralizes it.

In their lab test, Choi says, the virus was inactive within five minutes and within 30 minutes all of it was completely destroyed.

Choi has a provisional patent on this new technology and says that it is commercially viable.

Ilaria Rubino, who is a University of Alberta Ph.D student in Choi’s lab group, shared with Business Insider that the salt-coating solution isn’t complicated to include into the mask manufacturing processes that already exist and it would  take low capital investment since salt is itself inexpensive.