INTERVIEW: Face mask technology that kills Covid-19

Livinguard face mask Photo/Courtesy

Medical experts advise people to wear face masks as a personal protective equipment against coronavirus, in addition to several other measures.

However, early last month, Kenya lifted the face mask Covid-19 mandate. Mandatory wearing of  masks in the public was lifted, while wearing them indoors remained in place. 

This comes shortly after Livinguard,  a hygiene technology company in the US has reinvented face masks with the latest technology, thus boosting the war against Covid-19 at the masks frontier.

Shivani Swamy works at Livinguard as the Vice President – Sales and Key Accounts – Middle East and Africa. She spoke to Faustine Ngila about the new technology face masks.

Q. Please explain the technology behind the masks? How safe are they, how do they work, what materials are used to make them?

Livinguard face masks are made of 100% cotton fabric. The outer fabric layer of the mask has Livinguard Tripellent Technology, which has 3 levels of protection. There is the Livinguard Antiviral Technology coated on both sides of this fabric, as well as the same Livinguard Antiviral Technology embedded into the fibres of the fabric. When a virus comes into contact with this fabric, its capsid (protein envelope) is destroyed and the virus essentially explodes, rendering it harmless. The fabric continues working in this manner, without any chemicals leaching out of it, and remains unaffected up to 30 washes. Both these layers destroy bacteria and viruses, including SARS-CoV-2,  as proven by the University of Berlin. Researchers from Freie Universität Berlin and ITA RWTH Aachen, two of the most recognized academic institutions in virology and textiles, have confirmed the efficacy of a new self-disinfecting technology to permanently destroy the new coronavirus when applied to textiles or surfaces.

Professor Uwe Rösler of Free University of Berlin says, “The textiles in these masks can thus continuously inactivate the exhaled viruses and can make handling these masks even safer overall.” 

In addition, such textiles could also help to reduce hygienic issues in other general and medical areas, even beyond COVID-19. The Pro and the Ultra masks offer an additional 1 or 2 layers respectively of industry standard melt blown filtration media for more efficient filtration and protection. All of these technologies in combination protect both the wearer from inhaling the virus, as well as those around them from exhaling the virus. The beauty of this design and technology is that the masks only need to be washed once a week, as it continuously destroys microbes that would normally have posed an infection risk. This means that it is good for 210 uses. The key here is that it is far safer for the wearer relative to reusable and devoid of any harmful metals (like titanium, silver, zinc) based antimicrobial masks and poses a 0.5% waste burden on the environment relative to single use masks.

Q. What unique qualities do the Livinguard masks have that other masks lack? What approval protocols have they undergone?

Each Livinguard mask has undergone testing for performance and filtration as per the standard claimed on the mask type. Moreover, our masks have been tested for inhalation and skin contact safety. The true unique features for the mask are –

a. COVID and infection destroying – including variants /mutations of the virus. We have tested our technology against Coronavirus 229e, SARS CoV 2, an Indian isolate and the Delta variant with constant results. We have also tested our masks against Tuberculosis.

b. Washable and reusable for 6 months – replaces 210 disposable masks and requires significantly less water/soap as compared to regular cloth masks.

c. No heavy metals or chemical leaching.

d. Breathable, available in multiple sizes, colours and styles for user comfort.

Q. How much do they cost, what’s the user experience?

The average retail price of the masks differs depending on the layers of filtration the mask offers. There are three types of Livinguard masks being sold in Kenya. The first is the street mask, which has 2 layers of filtration, going for Ksh.1,900 per mask. As the mask can be worn 210 times, for up to 6months, the price per use is Ksh.9, making it cheaper in the long run. 

The Pro-Mask is another one of the Livinguard masks. The Pro-mask has three layers of filtration (95% filtration), going for Ksh.3,400 and the unit cost for 210 uses (6 months) is Ksh.16. 

The last type of mast is the Ultra Mask, which has 4 layers of filtration, which is primarily used by healthcare professionals. Phillips will be supplying the mask directly to hospitals and clinics and has also partnered with pharmacy chains such as GoodLife and Healthy to supply the mask directly to consumers.

Q. Masks are contributing to medical waste every day. What is Livinguard doing to control this?

It is not news that the increase in the use of masks by non-healthcare workers as a result of the pandemic has had a severe impact on marine life, our oceans, beaches and much more. Livinguard masks rely on unique continuous disinfecting properties, which has been proven by some of the world’s leading scientific institutions. 

Freie Universität Berlin and The Department of Environmental Science at the University of Arizona, scientifically confirm the technology’s antiviral properties. These third-party researchers confirmed masks treated with Livinguard technology kill greater than 99.9% of SARS-CoV-2, and many other common viruses. When used daily and washed weekly (upto 30 times), these masks can be reused for 6 months, effectively replacing 210 single-use masks. Made from 100% cotton fabric, it is eco-friendly, 90% biodegradable and results in less than 0.5% waste. 

Research shows that if a million people use one reusable Livinguard mask 210 times, we can save 36,000 tonnes of waste. With a simple switch from a disposable mask to the Livinguard mask, we can protect both people and the planet.

Dr. Demet Sulemanji is a critical care consultant, heads the  department of Critical Care at AAR Hospital. She has used the Livinguard and she shares her experience.

Q. As one of the first people to start using the Livinguard mask technology in Kenya, why and when  did you start using it, how effective has it been for you in your day-to-day life as a medical practitioner?

I started using the Livinguard mask during our first COVID-19 peak in Kenya and have been using the technology ever since. I have worked in the ICU on a daily basis during the entire pandemic phase. When the mask was introduced to me, I was skeptical at first. However, I did my own research and came up with significant literature and reviews about the new technology and decided to give it a try. I remember thinking how comfortable the mask was compared to the N95 masks I have been using which usually left marks on my face. Livinguard is safe, comfortable with its lightweight, and environment-friendly (one mask can be used for up to six months).

Q.What gave you confidence in the mask technology?

The research behind the technology as well as its wide acceptance and approval by many countries including but not limited to Switzerland, Germany, Japan, Switzerland). There’s also extensive experimenting going on by third parties such as universities, FDA, etc. to remove the bias that might have linked to the industry. And of course, my personal experience on a daily basis in direct interaction with covid 19 positive patients.

Q. As a medical practitioner who was at the forefront in the fight against COVID-19, how important do you think this innovation was to help stop the spread of the virus?

With the pandemic spreading over the globe, all research and technology stakeholders have concentrated on finding a way to help combat the situation and save lives. Engineers behind the Livinguard technology came up with this brilliant idea of a self-disinfecting textile that they could produce N95 and N99 masks which kills/removes the bacteria and viruses that they come across in addition to the filtration mechanism that any N95 and N99 is equipped with. The more people use the technology, the more effectively we will eliminate the virus.

Q. Where do you see the future of the fight against viral airborne diseases?

Viral diseases will always be present in our lives, whether it’s influenza, corona or other types of viruses, there are common preventative measures that we have to always keep in mind; wearing a mask, personal/hand hygiene and social distancing. Our personal efforts and diligence will be the essential weapon in this fight. However, technology will offer us new solutions to make sure we win the fight. Think of Livinguard technology for example, it can be applied in all forms of textiles, already scrubs have been produced for healthcare staff, think of everyone having access to clothing (t shirts/pants/dresses/uniforms etc) with this technology or imagine train/airplane/bus seats covered with Livinguard textiles, airport seats, conference room seats, etc. I believe there are no limits to what can be done using this idea in the future for the fight against viruses.

Q. What are your thoughts now that there is a lift on the mask mandate and people are no longer required to wear masks in Kenya? What do you see as the future of mask use in the country?

As I mentioned in the previous answer, the fight against diseases starts at the personal level. Using a mask, hand hygiene and social distancing are essential to stick to as part of a new way of living. Each pandemic has taught humanity new ways of protecting themselves against diseases and survival. Law cannot dictate a consistent mandating for such preventative measures, but we can take actions to protect ourselves, our families by continuing to take those measures in public. Some cultures such as Far-Asian communities have been using masks during travelling, sports events, concerts or other crowd activities for many years. It’s a culture change we need at this point in Kenya and take our health and self-care as a priority and protect ourselves especially at high-risk environments by wearing our masks as well as using other simple measures that have become a part of our life in the past two years already.

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