Even with the protection measures employed, the new coronavirusspreads across the world quickly. One of the factors that may have contributed to this is the presence of the virus on surfaces that are regularly touched by people.
As pointed out by Gerald Larrouy-Maumus, an infectious disease researcher at Imperial College London, in United Kingdom, surfaces are one of the ways that pathogens use most to spread among people.
“The surfaces we touch in our daily routine can be vectors of transmission”, says the researcher. This is indeed true. It is estimated that the virus that causes Covid-19 it can persist in cardboard for up to 24 hours, while in plastic and stainless steel this time is extended to up to three days.
In some other cases, bacteriathey can survive for several months on common surfaces – such as E. Cole and MRSA. This only reinforces the importance of continually disinfecting frequently touched parts.
However, as pointed out by Larrouy-Maumus, there is another solution: change the texture of the surfaces we use or coat them with substances that kill bacteria and virus. The researcher bets on copper alloys.
According to him, the ons found in copper alloys are antiviral and antibacterial capable of killing 99.9% of bacteria in up to two hours. O metaltransition is even more effective than silver – which requires moisture to activate its antimicrobial properties.
Even today, copper is not widely used in medical facilities. It is expensive and more difficult to clean without causing corrosion – in addition to having a portion of people who do not like such materials. This meant that, over time, copper was replaced by stainless steel and later by plastic – which has the advantage of being light and cheap.
Surfaces help spread the new coronavirus. Photo: electravk
Although it is impossible to coat all surfaces with copper, Larrouy-Maumus believes that its use in specific access points, such as elevator buttons and handles, could help to reduce contamination and spread of diseases, such as the new coronavirus.
Inspiration in nature
While some people bet on established elements present, others look for different – and unusual – ways to fight the spread of diseases. This is the case of Elena Ivanova, molecular biochemist at RMIT University, at Australia.
The specialist has been working for about a decade on a way to change the tiny texture of surfaces to prevent bacterial colonies from developing. According to her, her biggest inspiration is the wing of some insects.
“The wings of the cicada, for example, are famous for their self-cleaning effect. Which means that the drops of water hit them, but do not get caught,” said Ivanova.
Despite the entire study, there is still no specific material that can recreate the same characteristics. However, biochemistry bets on two elements: graphene and titanium.
According to her, graphene sheets are incredibly thin, with “sharp edges that can cut the bacterial membrane and kill it”, although these “blades” are too small to damage human skin.
Due to the characteristics of the titanium, it can be melted using high temperature and pressure, forming a thin sheet with sharp edges that can kill different types of bacteria. “These surfaces will not require any specific treatment of chemical or antibiotic agents for them to be effective,” he says.
Pillars to hold the virus
Another possibility for a surface capable of protecting people from contamination was presented by Vladimir Baulin, a biophysicist at Universitat Rovira i Virgili, in Spain. He believes that it is possible to trap viral particles between nanopillars – small pillar-shaped structures that can be produced synthetically on a surface.
This could help in collecting viruses so that scientists can develop tests and vaccines. Another strategy would be to texturize a surface so that it has characteristics that physically break the outermost layer of these particles.
However, the approach of protecting surfaces to curb the spread of disease should be viewed with caution, as warned Mengying Ren, policy officer for the ReAct (Action on Antibiotic Resistance) network. She notes that “regardless of how good the technologies are, we will still need to consider the basics in healthcare facilities, such as protective equipment, cleaning products and specific facilities to prevent the spread of the virus.”
Still according to her, in low-income countries, which do not always have a reliable supply of running water, it can be especially difficult to keep the types of antimicrobial surfaces clean. In case of titanium, the expert points out that it can be viable, since “the pathogen cell debris detaches from the surfaces” – essentially making them self-cleaning. Copper, in turn, would need to be polished to limit oxidation, which would make it less reactive.
Either way, it takes time for these ideas to find business partners to help with implementation. In the future, these surfaces may be an important tool in the fight against infectious diseases and even a future pandemic.