Scientists Develop High-Tech 'Air Mask' to Ward Off Viruses

air mask
A prototype of the air maskUniversity of Michigan

Key Takeaways

  • An experimental 'air mask' can effectively block airborne viruses

  • The mask is comprised of an air curtain blowing down from the brim of a hard hat

  • Lab tests show the mask can block 99.8% of viruses

TUESDAY, July 10, 2024 (HealthDay News) -- An experimental “air mask” could help ward off infectious diseases while people are on the job, researchers report.

The mask uses an air curtain blowing down from the brim of a hard hat to prevent airborne viruses from reaching a worker’s eyes, nose and mouth.

The method can block 99.8% of viruses, lab tests show.

"Our air curtain technology is precisely designed to protect wearers from airborne infectious pathogens, using treated air as a barrier in which any pathogens present have been inactivated so that they are no longer able to infect you if you breathe them in," said researcher Herek Clack, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Michigan.

"It's virtually unheard of — our level of protection against airborne germs, especially when combined with the improved ergonomics it also provides,” Clack added in a university news release.

The prototype was developed by Taza Aya, a University of Michigan startup company. It features a backpack weighing roughly 10 pounds, which contains technology that sterilizes ordinary air before sending it to the hard hat, where it is blown out as an air curtain.

The startup developed the air mask in response to agriculture disruptions that occurred during the pandemic, as well as potential disruptions that could occur if an avian flu outbreak occurs in animals at a stockyard or processing plant.

Workers in meat processing plants wore paper masks during the pandemic, but on a noisy production line masks hamper the ability of workers to communicate, researchers said.

The workday also can cause a paper mask to move around, reducing its effectiveness, and can fog up safety goggles, they added.

In recent months, Taza Aya has been testing the air mask with workers at Michigan Turkey Producers in Wyoming, Mich., a processing plant that employs hundreds.

"During COVID, it was a problem for many plants—the masks were needed, but they prevented good communication with our associates," said Tina Conklin, Michigan Turkey's vice president of technical services.

Taza Aya hopes to launch what it calls the “Worker Wearable” in 2025, based on these real-world tests, said startup CEO Alberto Elli.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on masks and respiratory infections.

SOURCE: University of Michigan, news release, July 8, 2024

What This Means For You

An “air mask” could one day help workers in industrial settings avoid infectious diseases while on the job.

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