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Infectious Diseases

Updated 22 July 2020

Can this newly created air filter 'catch and kill' coronavirus?

Researchers have designed an air filter that can trap SARS-CoV-2, heat it and kill it instantly.

  • As there is evidence that the coronavirus can linger in the air, scientists believe that an air filter can eradicate the virus in certain spaces
  • Physical distancing and fresh air can’t always be achieved in areas such as airports
  • The filter can 'catch and kill' the virus before it has the chance to enter the human body

As experts are doing everything in their power to find a successful treatment or vaccine for SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus that causes Covid-19, other scientists are exploring ways to destroy the disease before it even has a chance to infect the body.

Researchers from the University of Houston, in a collaboration with other teams, have designed a “catch and kill” air filter that can trap and instantly kill SARS-CoV-2.

Why the need for an air filter?

As Covid-19 spread across the globe, it had devastating effects in areas where social distancing and fresh air are not possible – including airlines, public transport, cruise ships and large office buildings. While airlines and other sectors of the economy are slowly reopening to avoid further damage to the economy, members of the public are urged to wear masks, especially in these tightly packed areas where physical distancing can’t be maintained.

The ability of airborne droplets to spread the virus has been debated since early in the pandemic and scientists are still urging the World Health Organization to focus more on the ability of the virus to remain airborne.

The researchers from the University of Houston, taking into account the fact that the virus can remain in the air for almost three hours, concluded that an air filter could help to reduce infection.

According to Zhifeng Ren, director of the Texas Center for Superconductivity at UH, the filter’s ability to help control the spread of the virus could be very useful. He also proposed a desktop-sized air filter to purify the air in office environments.

How does the filter work?

The research, which was published in the journal Materials Today Physics, found that 99.8% of the viruses were killed in a single pass through a filter made from commercially available nickel foam, which is heated to 200 degrees Celsius.

The researchers realised that nickel foam has low resistivity, which makes it difficult to heat it enough to kill the virus, but they solved this problem by folding the foam and connecting the compartments with electrical wires to increase the ability to heat the filter.

When the filter is electrically heated, rather than heating it from an external source, it minimises heat escaping from the filter, which allows it to function with minimal strain

According to a news release, a prototype was designed and tested in a laboratory. 

The filter will be manufactured in phases and supplied to high-priority venues.

READ | Indoor precautions important to curb airborne transmission of coronavirus 

READ | Undetected cases may be driving coronavirus spread 

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