Put on 'virus stopper' - and cast off the plaster

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 03 May, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 03 May, 2006, 12:00am

New fabric keeps hospital staff cool under pressure and filters out bugs

Protective clothing made from a hi-tech fabric that wards off infection without making the wearer hot and sweaty was yesterday touted as a possible weapon in the fight against bird flu.

But the Hospital Authority refused to say whether it would introduce the clothing. Its frontline workers were among those worst hit by the 2003 Sars outbreak in Hong Kong.

The protective clothing, developed by a team at Polytechnic University using nanotechnology, is said to be able to filter out and kill bugs while allowing the wearer's sweat and body heat to dissipate.

'The experience of wearing the traditional protective gear can be quite unbearable, particularly after having it on for four hours,' said Li Yi, of the university's Institute of Textile and Clothing.

'Since the gear stops air exchange completely, it is hard for sweat or bodily moisture to get out of the gear.

'As a result, it always leaves the doctor feeling hot and stuffy inside the coat,' said Professor Li, who co-heads the project with his colleague, Professor Edward Newton. He said the fabric, dubbed the 'virus stopper', enabled one-way ventilation.

It would help medical staff 'feel better and breathe healthier', while reducing the risk of contracting bird flu and other viruses, he said.

'Doctors breathe through the nano-filter - which is part of the gear's design - instead of a mask. The filter can kill bacteria that can be found in the ward,' he said.

'The plastic cover spreading over the face can prevent doctors from being infected with contaminated droplets, such as saliva, from patients.'

The outfits cost about $500 each and are a good protective measure for hospital staff in high-risk wards, he said.

A local company has bought the patent and expects the clothing to be widely used in local public hospitals in future because of its ability to be reused.

'The coat can be cleaned more than 50 times. Compared with the traditional gear, which has to be discarded after being used once, it is more environment-friendly,' Professor Li said.

A spokesman said the Hospital Authority had 'taken note' of the innovation, but would not say whether the clothing would be used in public hospitals.

The invention won a silver award at the 34th International Exhibition of Inventions, New Techniques and Products in Geneva last month.

Seven other inventions from the university were awarded prizes at the competition.