The dawn of the Covid era means that wearing a face mask has become the new norm, and masks that claim to be effective at killing bacteria are becoming increasingly popular, whether they be infused with elements such as silver or copper, or as snoods with special nano coatings. We look at whether copper-infused masks are worth considering, and why they may offer an extra level of protection.
The antibacterial benefits of copper
The antibacterial properties of copper have been known for thousands of years, when the Egyptians used the rust from green copper to sterilise their water as well as to treat wounds. However, it is only in recent years that copper infused medical devices such as plasters and dressings have become readily available. We spoke to Rory Donnelly, clinical research director of Copper Clothing, a company that supplies copper-infused face masks globally.
'The reason copper is so effective at preventing infection is because of its oligodynamic effect' says Donnelly. 'Copper ions rupture and destroy the outer cell membrane of any pathogenic microbe it encounters. By destroying the DNA of a bacteria or virus, it stops replication of those microbes and so avoids the possibility of them becoming resistant to copper, unlike antibiotic treatments where resistance is an increasing problem'.
Numerous studies have now shown that copper infused dressings can reduce infection, lower the number of post-operative complications and help save hospital resources. This is now especially important as the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) say that wound and surgical infections account for over 15 per cent of all healthcare-associated infections in the UK.
Copper and Covid-19
Although no direct claim can be made by the manufacturers that copper-infused products kill Covid-19, there have been some encouraging findings.
'The latest tests conducted by Japan’s Nara University have shown for the first time that the surface material of copper-infused masks can eliminate over 99.9 per cent of the SARS-Cov-2 virus strains within 25 seconds,' says Donnelly.
'In contrast the surgical masks used in the NHS can have the virus remaining on them for many days. Copper infused fabrics have also been shown to be effective against bovine coronavirus within 10 minutes.'
How to shop for antimicrobial face masks
There are a number of things to consider if you are thinking of buying an antimicrobial face mask, with three areas in particular being important:
✔️ Know the difference between antiviral, antibacterial and antimicrobial
‘Antibacterial’ means it is effective against bacteria but as Covid-19 is a virus this will have no effect on it. ‘Antimicrobial’ is a general catch-all term that means it kills microbes but does not mean it is effective against them all, whereas ‘antiviral’ means it specifically acts against viruses but as there are so many of these you will need to check the claims being made as to which virus this covers.
✔️ Always be careful with mask certifications
All genuine face masks should have a disclaimer that they are not medical devices, and that they are not cures for Covid-19. Try to look for independent assessment of any mask as the standards for reusable face coverings are currently voluntary.
✔️ Check how the mask is most effectively used
This includes how it should be washed (for example, copper-infused face masks need to be washed every week by soaking in cooled boiled water for several minutes then gently squeezed and dried) , how long it may be effective for, and the time it can take for them to work.
✔️ Stay Covid-19 safe
Whatever mask you may choose to wear, always remember they are not some magical protection against Covid-19 and that they must be worn in combination with social distancing, good hand hygiene and strict adherence to local guidelines. When wearing a mask, avoid touching the front, store safely in a closed bag or pouch, and remove using the straps.
Last updated: 29-10-2020
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