Anti-bacterial Fabric / Latest News

Hospital Infections Can Be Prevented

From Tiny Dynamo: How One
of the World's Smallest Countries Produces Some of the Most Important Inventions
, by
Marcella Rosen

Now hospital fabrics can be treated with an anti-bacterial substance to prevent the spread of infection.

 

See if this statistic blows your mind, because it sure blows mine.

Every year, 90,000 people die in American hospitals as a result of bacterial infections they contract while they’re in the hospital.

90,000.

Death is going to happen in hospitals, but that number isn’t due to car accidents, crime, or cancer. It’s due to infection caught in the very place where you go to heal.

90,000.

It’s a maddening statistic. Let it sink in. Then realize that, worldwide, the number is one million.

The causes are numerous. Unsterilized instruments. Unwashed hands. Door handles. Airborne bugs being swapped by close-quartered patients.

But the biggest culprits couldn’t be more mundane: Pajamas. Sheets. Pillowcases. Gowns. Curtains.

It turns out that textiles are among the most common carriers and conveyers of the bacteria that cause hospital infections, which enter the body through wounds, incisions, and foreign bodies such as catheters or tubing.

Now I realize that we’re never going to get entirely eliminate hospital infections. But the first time I heard that sheets and pajamas and the like are the biggest infection malefactors, I thought “Come on, surely we can do better than that.”

Aharon Gedanken agrees. And he has developed a method for making anti-bacterial fabrics that he believes will drastically reduce the incidence of hospital infections and save thousands of lives worldwide.

“The general view regarding this problem is that the hospital of the future should be as anti-bacterial as humanly possible,” says Professor Gedanken. “But I have developed a technology that can move us a long way toward that goal right now.”

Prof. Gedanken’s technology represents a major step forward toward eliminating a problem that most people aren’t even aware of. And it all started with smelly socks.

Prof. Gedanken is a groundbreaking chemist and director of the Kanbar Laboratory for Nanomaterials at the Bar-Ilan University Institute of Nanotechnology and Advanced Materials.

In 2003 Professor Gedanken was involved in a project to make socks that Israeli soldiers could wear for a week or more between washings. Professor Gedanken realized that the offensive odor from unwashed socks socks comes from the bacteria that thrive in the warm, moist world inside a soldier’s boot. Eliminate the bacteria and you eliminate the smell.

Prof. Gedanken developed a revolutionary method of passing ultrasonic waves through a zinc oxide solution, forming microjets that blast anti-bacterial zinc oxide nanoparticles onto – and into – a substrate introduced into the solution.

In short, if you dunk a sock in the solution, it comes out impregnated with an anti-bacterial “coating” that is actually part of the sock’s very fabric.

From the sock project, Prof. Gedanken and his colleagues moved on to the challenge of creating an anti-bacterial bandage that led him to naturally consider the problem of hospital textiles.

“We have shown that this is a very efficient coating,” says Prof. Gedanken. “Coating is actually a misleading term. This process forces the coating to penetrate whatever you’re treating. Metal, polymer, ceramics, paper. We’ve tested it on glass, and we can show that it actually penetrates the glass.”

That penetrative quality is the key to Prof. Gedanken’s results with hospital fabrics. “When we talk to large hospitals and health care companies, they say to us ‘Look, Prof. Gedanken, we have twenty companies like you coming to show us coated textiles and they just don’t hold up.’”

That’s because hospitals are ruthless in the way they subject their pillowcases and pajamas and so on to fabric’s ultimate enemy: the washing machine.

Hospitals run washes at temperatures up to 92 degrees Celsius – that’s 197 degrees Fahrenheit, or about 15 degrees short of boiling water.

“Other companies produce coated materials,” says Prof. Gedanken, “but when you wash them like that, the coating comes off.”

Prof. Gedanken’s coating doesn’t.

Currently Prof. Gendanken and his partners can efficiently produce the kind of materials hospitals would require for smaller items like pillowcases and pajamas. The next challenge is to create a machine that can produce coated materials that will satisfy a busy hospital’s need for sheets, curtains, drapes.

Prof. Gedanken’s team has partnered with a consortium of seventeen academic and industrial groups from eleven European countries to produce such a machine, because, says Prof. Gedanken, “even though we can demonstrate the effectiveness of our process, and show that we can produce it successfully at the smaller end of the scale, those in a position to put our materials to work for people can’t rely on their imaginations. They need to see it with their own eyes.” The consortium gives Prof. Gedanken’s work a broad-based, international credibility that should carry weight with those who can put his materials to work on behalf of patients worldwide.

And with the problem of fabric-borne infections gaining recognition inside the medical and industrial communities, it seems like it’s only a matter of time before anti-bacterial materials become the standard in hospitals throughout the U.S. and, eventually, around the world.

That might not make checking into the hospital any more pleasant. But it will significantly increase the likelihood that you will eventually check out.