A new mask can detect if there is Covid-19 virus in the air

Photograph; Jack Taylor

Several studies have demonstrated the protective effect of face masks, especially during the most critical phases of the pandemic. A team from China is developing equipment that will have another use that is also quite strategic from a public health point of view: to accuse the existence, in the air, of pathogenic respiratory viruses. In tests, the prototype indicated the presence of this type of microorganism, including Sar-CoV-2, which triggers covid-19, in 10 minutes and sent the danger alert to a mobile phone.

“Our mask would work very well in poorly ventilated spaces, such as elevators or closed rooms, where the risk of infection is high,” says Yin Fang, materials scientist at Shanghai Tongji University and corresponding author of the paper. study detailing the new technology, published in yesterday’s issue of Matter magazine.

Respiratory pathogens spread through small droplets and aerosols released by infected people when they talk, cough and sneeze. These virus-containing molecules, especially tiny aerosols, can stay suspended in the air for a long time. Fang and his colleagues have designed a small sensor that, coupled with masks, identifies the amount of virus even in small amounts.

During testing, the team sprayed pathogens – Sar-CoV-2, H5N1 (bird flu) and H1N1 (common flu) – inside and next to a common mask with the sensors. The device identified the threat in just 0.3 microliters of fluid containing viral proteins, about 70 to 560 times less than the volume of fluid produced during a sneeze, according to Fang.

Diagnostic

According to the scientist’s assessment, the results of the simulations indicate the potential of the mask for clinical practices. “Currently, physicians rely heavily on their expertise in disease diagnosis and treatment, but with richer data collected by wearable devices, disease diagnosis and treatment can become more accurate,” they explain.

The simplicity of wearing the mask is also an attraction, according to the authors of the study. “Integrated with the Internet of Things system, our bioelectronic masks can be used and monitored on mobile devices anytime and anywhere, allowing free movement and real-time monitoring of ambient air,” point out -they.

The sum of the benefits, they assess, could turn the sensors into an instrument capable of aiding in the early diagnosis of respiratory infections – including those that could give rise to new pandemics. “The benefits of portability and real-time monitoring can provide early and timely warning, which is important for preventing the large-scale spread of respiratory infectious diseases,” the authors state.

The team plans to improve the sensors to reduce detection time and increase sensitivity. Additionally, they are working to create wearable devices that can aid in the diagnosis of other diseases, such as cancers and cardiovascular complications.

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