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Medical textiles save lives

October 10th, 2014 / By: / My Take

Personal protective equipment includes individual gowns, gloves, masks and goggles or face shields, as well as boots covered with disposable protection. Photo: World Health Organization.
Personal protective equipment includes individual gowns, gloves, masks and goggles or face shields, as well as boots covered with disposable protection. Photo: World Health Organization.

Medical professionals are limited in what they can do to save someone who is very sick with an Ebola virus; there is no magic cure or a vaccine to prevent it. But there is a way to prevent the spread of the frequently deadly viruses and potentially save thousands of lives. It involves fabric.

This year’s outbreak of the Ebola virus has driven a precipitously high demand for personal protective equipment (PPEs, or protective suits) worldwide, but particularly in West Africa. Statistics vary from one source to another, but it is possible that more than 3,000 people have died and thousands more may have contracted the virus.

Many of the protective garments—which can include boots, coverall, apron, gloves, hood, eye goggles or face shield, and a mask—are made of textiles and are designed according to strict standards. Because Ebola viruses are transmitted via contact with infected body fluids—one person coming in contact with an infected person—PPEs makes it possible to treat patients with a greatly reduced risk to the caregivers.

It sounds relatively simple, but since most of the suit must be disposed of and burned, thousands of the suits are needed to meet the demand. Worse, working often in facilities, which are not air conditioned, in the heat of West Africa, the suits are so hot that those treating the patients must take frequent breaks, which requires removing the suit, disposing of parts of it and disinfecting the other components, and suiting up again when ready.

The need for PPEs, unfortunately, is growing rapidly and manufacturers who provide them are working hard to provide them. Some of the companies supplying the garments and gear, or some portion of the complete ensemble, include Kimberly-Clark, 3M, Lakeland Industries (ChemMax1 product, with sealed seams), DuPont™ (Tychem® QC and Tychem® SL fabrics and their taped seams).

IFAI’s Advanced Textiles Expo, in process this week, includes a two-day track on medical textiles. I’m reminded again and again in the sessions I’ve attended so far of the importance of ongoing research and development of products that could save lives, or just make our lives better. Take a look at “What today’s medical textiles can do” in the Featured section of this site for just some of the research and finished products in this market sector, and check back soon for more coverage of the two-day Advanced Textiles Conference.

This site will also offer updates on the role of advanced textiles in the fight against Ebola. If your company is involved in any way, I hope you’ll share this information with us. The more we all understand, the better we may be able to help in this difficult struggle