Says researchers found a “fabric that kills coronaviruses”

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There’s reason to be skeptical of any Internet post claiming something kills the coronavirus.

Facebook in particular can be a deluge of home remedies that range from unproven to downright dangerous.

So you’d be forgiven for raising your eyebrows if you came across a May 21, 2020, Indianapolis Monthly article shared widely on Facebook saying researchers have found a “fabric that kills coronaviruses.”

But this claim has science behind it — preliminary though it may be. Researchers discovered low-level electric fields can render the coronavirus unable to infect a host after just a minute of exposure to the field.

This post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook).

Here’s what we know so far about this product.

Based on an FDA-approved concept

Though the application to the novel coronavirus is new, the technology isn’t.

The concept — called electroceutical fabric — was developed several years ago by Chandan Sen, now the director of the Indiana Center for Regenerative Medicine and Engineering at the Indiana University School of Medicine. While working at Ohio State University in 2017, he created an electrically-based antimicrobial wound dressing that has been approved by the FDA and sold by Vomaris.

Sen detailed the potential application to COVID-19 on May 14, 2020, in a preliminary study released online at the preprint server ChemRxiv. The site publishes early versions of studies ahead of formal peer review and publication.

When the coronavirus pandemic began, Sen thought about ways his research could help, he said in a YouTube video released through Indiana University.

“We tried to put some time into understanding the physical make of this virus, and are there perhaps some weak points we could target,” Sen said.

Coronaviruses in general rely on electrostatic interactions to assemble themselves into an infective form and attach to a host.

The electroceutical fabric consists of polyester printed with a series of metal dots — alternating silver and zinc — printed on the fabric in a geometric pattern. There is no wire or external battery, but these metals when exposed to moisture create microcell batteries that generate an electrical charge.

“We thought then our dressing (could be) capable of disrupting those electrostatic forces, and we started testing it and the results have seemed very promising,” Sen said in the video. “You’re using a very weak electric field which is not harmful to humans … but is capable of dismantling bacterial infections, we are currently working on fungal infection, and now we see it can also incapacitate, if you will, viruses.”

Vomaris has applied through the FDA’s Emergency Use Authorization program to use the fabric for COVID-19 face masks.

The Indianapolis Star reported May 26, 2020, the company is hoping to use the fabric to develop two products: A washable mask with a disposable electroceutical fabric layer can be inserted, and another mask designed for one-time use. The company hopes to have the products on the market by the fall flu season.

“Use of personal protective equipment (PPE) is essential to safeguard healthcare providers against COVID-19,” Sen’s study says. “However, use of these PPE itself poses significant threat as doffing of contaminated PPE carrying viable viral particles is likely to infect the person and potentially spread infection.”

Our ruling

An article spread widely on Facebook says researchers have discovered a “fabric that kills coronaviruses”

This particular application has not yet been peer-reviewed or approved by the FDA, but initial research shows electroceutical fabric is indeed able to neutralize the virus after a minute of contact with the electrical field generated by the fabric.

The company that already manufacturers this product for use as a wound dressing hopes to have it ready for release later this year in antiviral face masks.

So the signs are good, but given these findings are preliminary and haven’t yet been subject to peer review, we rate this Mostly True.

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