Will Antimicrobial Fashion Protect You From Coronavirus?

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Written by Jacqui Palumbo, CNN

With no end to the global pandemic in sight, fashion and sportswear brands quickly adapted their lines to include masks decorated with stylish logos and patterns.

While fabric masks made from traditional materials can help slow the spread of Covid-19, according to the World Health Organization, some labels go even further. They market new accessories, and in some cases entire clothing lines, as having antimicrobial properties – applications that inhibit the growth of microorganisms such as bacteria and fungi, or reduce viral activity. But what does antimicrobial fashion do and can it offer additional protection in a pandemic?

Burberry has announced an upcoming line of antimicrobial masks in their signature plaid textile. Credit: Courtesy of Burberry

In recent months, brands like Burberry have introduced face masks they claim are protected from germs and germs. The next beige and blue Burberry models are carried by the brand’s signature. Under Armor’s multi-layered UA Sportsmask, marketed as having antimicrobial properties, sold out in less than an hour when it was released this summer.

And Diesel sells denim which she says is “anti-virus”. The Italian brand has announced that it will use a technology called ViralOff – which it says “physically stops 99% of all viral activity” – in a number of items in its Spring / Summer 2021 collection. ViralOff works “by interacting” with key proteins, preventing the virus from attaching to textile fibers, ”Diesel’s press release read.

In the United States, brands cannot claim that products will protect carriers of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, without providing sufficient evidence. Therefore, some labels simply allude to additional protection or hygiene, although the fine print often reveals that antimicrobial treatments are only intended to inhibit bacterial or viral growth, and not to protect the user from pathogens. (Washing clothes with soap once a day, as recommended by the World Health Organization or WHO, can also kill bacteria and viruses.) The FDA and CDC did not immediately respond to CNN requests for information regarding products that have been tested or submitted for formal approval.

Without solid scientific testing from brands across the board, it’s difficult to assess whether antimicrobial treatments can protect carriers of the novel coronavirus, according to Amy Price, principal investigator at the Stanford Anesthesia Informatics and Media (AIM) Lab who advised the WHO. on his face mask guidelines.

“The challenge is that sometimes statements are made, but they are not tested on the actual masks or with the actual virus,” she said on a conference call. “So they’re like gimmicks. »Price has not tested any of the products mentioned in this article.

Some companies say they have tested their products with SARS-CoV-2, like IFTNA’s PROTX2 AV which Under Armor says it uses, and HeiQ’s Viroblock, which the company’s website says is used by many brands to produce reusable masks and coats. and even mattresses. According to IFTNA, recent lab tests “show the effectiveness of PROTX2 AV against Covid-19”, while HeiQ claims that Viroblock, which is added to fabric during the last step of the textile manufacturing process, has been “tested effective against Sars-CoV-2.” CNN has not been able to independently verify these claims.

But some others have not revealed which viruses, if any, their products have been tested on, muddying the waters of so-called “antimicrobial” fashion.

Price, who has studied the effectiveness of sheet masks alongside AIM Lab Director Larry Chu, said a number of variables determine how much protection a product offers.

“Often bacteria and viruses have different ways of reproducing, and different things are effective against them,” she explained. “With antimicrobial (treatments) it’s important to know what you’re dealing with, what it’s been tested with, and if it’s safe for human skin.

“(With) whatever you put on your face – especially what you’re going to wear day in and day out – you want to make sure it’s really something safe or FDA approved. “

Cloudy statements

Since the coronavirus outbreak was declared a pandemic by the WHO in March, mask-wearing guidelines have continued to evolve. Many countries now require masks to be worn in public spaces to reduce the spread of the virus.

“If you wear (a mask) and people around you wear it, we have seen that the transmission (of the coronavirus) probably drops to the 90% plus range, which is good enough,” Dr Atul Grover, said the executive director of the Association of American Medical Colleges Research and Action Institute told CNN in August.

In their study, Price and Chu found that fabric masks can “do better than surgical masks in terms of blocking particles,” Price said – but only “if they’re made well,” with a three-part design. layered and snug. . (The WHO has produced a series of videos on recommended materials and fit, based on the couple’s research.)

Cloth masks have become a popular reusable option during the pandemic. The World Health Organization recommends washing with soap and water between clothes to kill germs. Credit: Alfredo Estrella / AFP / Getty Images

“At the end of the day, it’s about having a form of barrier with multiple layers,” CNN chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta said in an April CNN video on the benefits of the drug. wearing a mask.

So far, few published studies have examined the impact of antimicrobial and antiviral treatments on tissues on the novel coronavirus. And there isn’t a single type of technology used by clothing brands, so each would require extensive individual studies to judge their effectiveness. It will be important to determine whether a treated tissue is able to neutralize the virus, and if so, how long it takes (“the virus can penetrate in nanoseconds,” Price said), as well as the number of washes of the antimicrobial treatment. . can resist.

Earlier this month, Polygiene, which recently partnered with Diesel and is the maker of ViralOff, said in a press release that antimicrobial treatment technology in textiles can kill 99% of SARS-CoV-2 in textile surfaces in two hours. Although Price has not tested Polygiene’s ViralOff technology, she estimates that two hours is “a long period of disinfection”, explaining that the garment could contaminate skin, food, water or mucous membranes during that time. ‘he makes contact.

Polygiene describes its textile treatment as “durable”, but advises users to “wash less and only when necessary”. Via email, the company clarified that it couldn’t guarantee that ViralOff will continue to run after machine washing – it recommends washing ViralOff-treated clothing gently by hand or not washing it at all – but has stated that another formula is currently in development.

Under Armor and Diesel did not return CNN’s requests for comment, while Burberry did not specify the type of antimicrobial treatment used in its masks.

Unresolved questions

As companies try to woo anxious consumers, claims about the effectiveness of antimicrobial clothing against the novel coronavirus itself appear to be growing. HeiQ claims its aforementioned treatment technology kills 99.99% of the virus in 30 minutes, while tissue maker IFTNA claims its product neutralizes over 99% of the virus in as little as 10 minutes with its “killing power. residual”.

Both companies say their products have been tested with other pathogens as well, including strains of influenza and different types of coronavirus, each lasting 30 washes, but CNN is unable to independently verify these claims.

Related Video: 5 Ways To Change Your Fashion Habits To Help The Planet

But companies vary in how they describe the protection offered by their products. Giancarlo Beevis, President of IFTNA, said via email: “This will protect the wearer from potential transmission points on anything processed with PROTX2 AV. HeiQ, on the other hand, does not claim that its product can protect people from pathogens – a disclaimer on its website indicates that the treatment is intended to protect the textile itself, not the wearer.

“Antiviral fabrics reduce the risk of virus transmission through surface contamination and provide additional protection against the virus,” Rahel Kägi Romero, of the HeiQ marketing team, said via email. “HeiQ doesn’t want to make health claims and give people a bad sense of security. Antiviral fabric is a factor in keeping people safe, but it has to go hand in hand with other measures, such as keeping social distance, wearing face masks. in crowded areas and wash your hands regularly. ”

While keeping your clothes virus-free could potentially reduce the risk of cross-contamination, there is still a lot to know about SARS-CoV-2. The main routes of transmission are still disputed, as is the amount of virus needed to make a person sick. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), although the possibility has not been ruled out, “touching a surface or object containing the virus… is not considered the primary means of spreading the virus. . ”

The possible benefits of antimicrobial fabrics are even less obvious for clothes that typically don’t come in contact with the face, like jeans, Price said. “Unless you’re just sitting there, rubbing your legs and then rubbing your face, then what’s the point?” she asked. Additionally, while a textile treatment has been shown to reduce some viral activity, this does not necessarily make it practical for all types of clothing.

Price isn’t ruling out the potential value of antimicrobial textiles, but so far, she said, studies offer an incomplete picture. “Should this be tested? Yes, ”she said. “(But) it absolutely shouldn’t be marketed to the public through press releases and industry brochures until the results are verified and replicated in a fair trial of treatments, such as a randomized clinical trial though. led.

“Even the FDA trials contain three phases and aftermarket oversight … If a person feels safer wearing a microbial fabric, and that safety is just a marketing illusion, it could cost them their lives. or their health. “

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