Sunday February 17, 2019
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Daylight Turns Plastic Sheet into Germ-Killing Material

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A health worker sprays a colleague with disinfectant during a training session for Congolese health workers to deal with Ebola virus in Kinshasa, Oct. 21, 2014. The process of removing the full-body protective suit is a prime opportunity for infection if the surface of the gear is contaminated. VOA

Daylight-powered microbe-killing masks and suits may someday help protect health workers from deadly germs like Ebola, according to new research.

Scientists have developed membranes that produce a tiny bit of disinfecting hydrogen peroxide when exposed to light. They could find their way into food packaging as well, the researchers say, helping cut down on foodborne diseases.

The research is published in the journal Science Advances.

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“If there’s any live bacteria or virus on the surface, it’s still transmissible and could cause infection,” said University of California, Davis, researcher Gang Sun. Pexels

Nearly 500 health workers died during the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa. Front-line caregivers wear full-body protective suits when they come into contact with patients with virulent diseases, but the process of removing the gear is a prime opportunity for infection if the surface is contaminated.

Sun and colleagues developed membranes that could line the outside of that protective gear. When exposed to daylight, molecules on the surface of these membranes react with oxygen in the air to produce small amounts of hydrogen peroxide — less than what you’d use to remove laundry stains, but enough to kill germs, according to Sun.

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“The approach is quite novel,” said University of Maryland food scientist Rohan Tikekar, who was not involved with this research. He says others have developed materials that produce disinfecting chemicals, but most only work under high-energy ultraviolet light. Pexels

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The new membrane also works in the dark, for at least an hour or two, thanks to chemical properties that recharge its germ-killing powers.

“That is a really significant improvement,” Tikekar added.

In addition to coating protective gear for health workers, Sun says adding a layer of this material to fresh-produce packaging could reduce contamination and prolong storage life.

Some versions of the material use natural compounds. Sun says one of the next steps is to make it edible. VOA

Next Story

WHO Makes Progress In Controlling Ebola In Congo

In addition, 2,600 health care workers in Uganda have been vaccinated.

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Health workers treat an unconfirmed Ebola patient inside a MSF (Doctors Without Borders)-supported Ebola Treatment Center (ETC) in Butembo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Nov. 3, 2018. VOA

Six months after the outbreak of Ebola was declared in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s North Kivu province, the World Health Organization is expressing cautious optimism that it is making headway in controlling the spread of the deadly virus.

Latest figures reported by the WHO show 752 cases of Ebola, including 465 deaths.

WHO Regional Director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti, says progress in containing the spread of the virus is due to a number of public health measures, including the training of health workers on infection prevention and control, closer engagement with communities, case investigation and contact tracing.

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Medical staff are sterilized before entering the isolation unit at a hospital in Bundibugyo, western Uganda, on Aug. 17, 2018, where there is one suspected case of Ebola. VOA

She says the use of a vaccine and promising new drugs have been a boon to these efforts.

“I feel optimistic,” Moeti said. “I am very clear that we need to continue this work. We need to make sure that in the places where we have made progress, we build on this progress and we do not go back. And, we are being very, very conscious of the fact that we need to invest to improve the preparedness both in the DRC areas that are highest at risk and, most importantly, in the surrounding countries that are at risk.”

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Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) workers talk to a worker at an isolation facility, prepared to receive suspected Ebola cases, at the Mbandaka General Hospital, in Mbandaka, Democratic Republic of Congo, May 20, 2018. VOA

The risk of the virus spreading to countries like Uganda, Rwanda and South Sudan is very high because of the heavy cross-border traffic among the countries, Moeti said. However, she added, surveillance and preparedness activities have been enhanced on both sides of the border.

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She says there is extensive monitoring at border crossings and improvements have been made in screening people for the virus. In addition, 2,600 health care workers in Uganda have been vaccinated. Moeti said a similar vaccination campaign began two days ago in South Sudan. (VOA)