Many people wear a simple surgical-style mask for protection during outbreaks of influenza or other potentially deadly viruses, however, these masks weren’t designed to prevent the spread of viruses.

A cough or sneeze transmits infectious airborne pathogens in aerosol droplets which may be trapped in the masks, posing a risk for the wearer. A coating of sodium chloride deactivates viruses trapped in surgical mask filters. Credit: Wikimedia CommonsA coating of sodium chloride deactivates viruses trapped in surgical mask filters. Credit: Wikimedia CommonsMerely handling the mask opens up new avenues for infection. Even respirators designed to protect individuals from viral aerosols have the same shortcoming—viruses trapped in respirators still pose risks for infection and transmission.

University of Alberta, Canada, researchers engineered a remedy that treats common surgical masks so they are capable of trapping and killing airborne viruses. A salt coating applied to a surgical mask filter dissolves upon exposure to virus aerosols and recrystallizes during drying, destroying the pathogens.

The deactivation system uses common sodium chloride salt to coat the filtration unit. On contact, aerosol droplets absorb the salt, and the virus is exposed to increasing concentrations as the droplet evaporates, suffering fatal physical damage when the salt returns to its crystalized state.

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