Washington: The University of Cincinnati (UC) has found that masks made of silk may be a good alternative if N95 or surgical masks are not available.
Silk face masks are comfortable, breathable and repel moisture. According to the study published in the journal Plos One, silk has natural antimicrobial, antibacterial and anti-viral properties that may be useful in keeping the virus away.
Patrick Guerra, assistant professor of biology in UC’s College of Arts and Sciences, said that silk also contains copper — a key ingredient in killing viruses.
Healthcare workers often wear a surgical mask over a N95 respirator. The outer mask helps keeping the N95 clean. Guerra’s wife Evelyn, who is a medical practitioner, reportedly suggested that silk can be a good choice as outer cover.
“Cotton traps moisture like a sponge. But silk is breathable. It’s thinner than cotton and dries really fast,” Guerra said.
In the UC biology lab, researchers found that silk works better as a moisture barrier than either polyester or cotton, both of which absorb water droplets quickly. It also concluded that silk performs similarly to surgical masks while having advantages like being washable and repelling water.
“The ongoing hypothesis is that coronavirus is transmitted through respiratory droplets,” Guerra said. “If you wore layers of silk, it would prevent the droplets from penetrating and from being absorbed. Recent work by other researchers also found that increasing layers of silk improves filtration efficiency. This means that silk material can repel and filter droplets. And this function improves with the number of layers.”
“We’re trying to address this critical problem. Healthcare workers still don’t have enough personal protective equipment, namely N95 respirators or basic surgical masks,” Guerra said.
Guerra is growing silk in the lab with caterpillars. They are investigating how long the virus survives on silk.