Share This Page

T-shirts may help stymie bird flu

It's not fancy, but it'll do.

In the event of a bird flu pandemic -- when medical supplies are expected to be in short supply worldwide -- a mask made out of an ordinary cotton T-shirt could keep the deadly virus out of people's lungs, said a local public health physician and two University of Pittsburgh researchers.

"It's a prototype. We've tested it on three people, but we thought it warrants getting the information out there," said David Hostler, a professor in Pitt's School of Emergency Medicine.

More testing is planned.

World health experts have spent more than three years monitoring a strain of bird flu known as H5N1, which many fear could cause a catastrophic pandemic if it mutates into a form that jumps easily from human to human.

The virus has killed 128 of the 225 people infected since 2003, according to the World Health Organization.

Dr. Virginia Dato, a public health physician with the Pennsylvania Department of Health, worked for about a year to design the T-shirt mask and enlisted Hostler and Pitt graduate student Michael Hahn to help test it about three months ago, Hostler said.

The mask is made by boiling a cotton T-shirt in water for about 10 minutes then letting it air-dry to sterilize the fabric and shrink it as much as possible. Using a pair of scissors, a ruler and a marker, Dato fashioned an eight-layer air filter that goes over a person's nose and mouth, as well as three sets of ribbons to secure the mask to a person's head.

A diagram is available at www.cdc.gov.

The U.S. Department of Labor recommends an N95 respirator -- that is, a mask that filters at least 95 percent of germ-sized particles -- for anyone working around bird flu. But the masks have to be specially fitted, and won't be accessible to everyone if a pandemic breaks out, according to an article the team published in the most recent issue of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Emerging Infectious Diseases journal.

"If I did not have an N95, I would be comfortable wearing this," Hostler said.

He added, however, that washing your hands and staying away from infected areas remain the best protection.

"I don't know how someone with asthma will do breathing through eight layers of T-shirt. I don't know how a child will do breathing through all that fabric," Hostler said.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.