Engineering polymers fight infections in surgical clothing

One weapon in the fight against infections in hospitals is increasing use of high-end engineering plastics in surgical gowns.

One of the interesting exhibits at MD&M West held in Anaheim, CA earlier this month was a life-sized anatomical human model wearing clothing made of fabrics supplied by SABIC's Innovative Plastics business and developed at the company's Polymer Processing Development Center in Pittsfield, MA.

SABIC supplies fibers made from Ultem and Siltem polyetherimide, Lexan polycarbonate and PC copolymers, Noryl polyphenylene oxide, and Valox thermoplastic polyester.

"You can add Ultem as a 40% blend and improve the fabric's ability to withstand sterilization processes," said David Wildgoose general manager, engineering resins-North America Innovative Plastics at SABIC, in an interview at MD&M West. "You can also improve design and comfort because of the material's light weight flexibility and colorfastness."

Surgical gown fabrics traditionally were made from water-repellent cotton and a cotton/polyester blend and then transitioned to blood- and pathogen-resistant chemically treated micro-fiber polyester, micro-porous membranes, films and laminates, as well as disposable materials, according to Phillip Johnson, a protective clothing expert and member of ASTM F23.40 Biological Protection Committee. Tougher standards were adopted in the 1980s and 1990s because of blood-borne diseases such as Hepatitis and AIDS.

In more recent years, efforts to fight hospital-acquired infections have been driven by concerns about multi-drug resistant bacteria and tougher Medicare rules.

Another exhibitor at MD&M West, W.L. Gore & Associates, provides fabrics for the SRI Surgical Green Gown, which are 510(k) cleared and include Level 2, Level 3, and Level 4 gown options, as defined by the AAMI PB70 standard for barrier protection.

Gore Medical Fabric consists of woven polyester, a liquid-proof fluoropolymer membrane and a polyester knit.






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