'If people use the mask properly, we can confidently say that this is as protective as the best mask in the market.'
As the number of people infected with the novel coronavirus in India crosses 700,000 comes the news that Shiva Texyarn Ltd, a Coimbatore-based textile company, has developed a mask that can deactivate the virus.
On July 7, the company launched the first anti-viral mask under the name Medic Virostat.
K S Sundararaman, the company's managing director, explains how the mask functions, to Shobha Warrier/Rediff.com.
How did the idea to make an anti-viral mask come to you?
We have been creating many unique products in the technical textile field. We use coating and lamination technology to create many innovative products like chemical, biological dresses for the army, cold weather clothing for the defence forces, etc.
When the pandemic came, we were one of the first companies that started making PPEs because we had the film lamination technology required for the coverall.
A transition from coverall to masks was a natural process for us because both were PPEs, and we had the technology available. We started with N95 equivalent masks and were supplying to the market.
We noticed that on one side, we have these N95 masks which are highly protective but not washable, and then we have the cloth masks that are washable but offer very little protection. That was when we wondered how we could bridge the gap.
We came up with the idea to have an anti-viral coating on top of the fabric.
Can you please explain what the anti-viral coating is?
We do not say that the anti-viral will kill the virus; we say it will deactivate the virus.
There are many chemicals that can deactivate a virus, like soap. That's why people are asked to wash their hands with soap and water.
We thought of a chemical that can be impregnated into the textile material which would have the same virus deactivation effect.
We found that there were 3-4 chemical manufacturers who were offering deactivation products.
For many years, they have been known for anti-microbials, and now they have been tested for anti-viral and proved successful.
One of which was HeiQ Materials AG in Switzerland.
We took the chemical HeiQ Viroblock from them, combined certain other proprietary chemicals of our own and came out with our own chemical to be used on textiles.
It took us 45 days to come out with the anti-viral fabric.
As per ISO, 181814 is the global anti-viral standard, and the tests are done only in four labs in the world.
HeiQ had already passed the global anti-viral test.
We tested the fabric we created in one of the labs for 181814 and passed the test with the viral efficiency of 99.01%.
Does the chemical deactivate all viruses?
It deactivates most viruses by breaking the cell wall that covers the RNA and the DNA.
We chose HeiQ because it was tested for Covid in Australia.
The technology is based on nano-silver which can kill the virus, and this is the technology we have used in our anti-viral masks.
HeiQ has added some more chemicals which can quicken the deactivation process.
What we do is, we give an anti-viral treatment on the fabric.
Do you give this treatment while making the fabric itself?
No, on top of the fabric we give this anti-viral treatment. It is like a coating.
In a matter of minutes, a virus that falls on the fabric gets deactivated.
As per HeiQ's testing, it takes 3 to 5 minutes for the virus to get deactivated.
When we made the mask, we have added some other things also to make sure the virus doesn't go through in the 3 to 5 minutes' time.
We have used both cotton and polyester material depending upon the design.
The inner most layer is a cotton layer, then comes a filter similar to N95 as a barrier layer so that the chemical, though it has been tested to be safe, doesn't touch the skin.
The outermost layer is the HeiQ Viroblock chemical layer.
What we have done is we have combined anti-viral technology with barrier technology.
So, you would be using a mask that is as good as an N95 mask which can be washed three times.
We advise people to wash the mask once a week, and use for three weeks.
How affordable is it?
We have priced the mask, left, at Rs 49 because we want it to be affordable to the common man.
When we were making the mask, we were thinking of the migrant worker on the road who needs protection from the virus.
We have two more types of masks priced at Rs 59 and Rs 69.
With the number of cases increasing in thousands every day, do you think this mask can stop the virus spreading?
If people use the mask properly, we can confidently say that this is as protective as the best mask in the market. It can even go for medical usage.
The problem is, how masks are used by people. Half of those who wear masks wear it with their nose outside.
So, if the person is not wearing the mask properly, even if s/he uses the best material in the world, it is of no use.
In India, people wear the mask because the police are asking them to wear it, and not to safeguard them from the coronavirus.
Most of the time people take it out because they find it difficult to breathe.
Yes, breathability is one of the reasons why people wear it around the neck.
Breathability or Delta P is very low for our masks, around 20 whereas the European standard for N95 masks to pass is lower than 29.
So, you can say the masks we make are highly breathable. And we have the capacity to produce 10 lakh masks a month.
Does anyone else in the world make the kind of anti-viral masks you have made?
Masks are used mainly in the hospitals in the West and they discard it after one use.
In fact, you are not supposed to reuse a mask. And N95 masks have been there for four decades.
People have done research on using anti-viral on N95 masks, but they did not take it further as it was not necessary.
Masks became a part of our lives only after the pandemic came.
We developed Medic Virostat for the common man who can wash and use it one mask for at least three weeks. Above all, it gives him protection from the virus.