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An Overview On Sanitary Napkins

The first disposable sanitary napkin, made of cotton and gauge, was put together in 1896. It was successfully commercialized in the United States of America in 1921. As the availability of the material shrank, there was a need to find a material that is easily available and cost-effective. Later, wood pulp was incorporated since it is an absorbent material from softwood.

The plastic revolution changed the entire nature of the sanitary napkin. Sanitary napkins began to be made of Super Absorbent Polymer(SAP) as an absorbent material, with Polypropylene(PP) for the back cover. This made it waterproof. The polypropylene top sheet kept it dry. Today’s sanitary napkins are almost entirely from a plastic material. Only a few are natural.

Potential problems of Sanitary napkins :

Hygiene risk: Improvisation led to introducing SAP to increase absorbency, they began to be made of polypropylene(PP) based perforated top sheet and polyethylene sheet as a barrier. This improved its functionality. These products seem innocuous but they may be laced with dioxins, petrochemicals, GMO (Genetically Modified Organisms), and fragrances. When these chemicals come in contact with sensitive skin, tissue may get irritated. Dioxins are carcinogenic in nature hence the risk of cancer increases even at very low levels of exposure. Additives such as fragrances, deodorants, absorbency agents, urea, and formaldehyde enhance the properties but can cause allergies and skin reactions.

Disposability: Polymers in sanitary pads are non-biodegradable materials. This may create many serious problems. Sanitary pads are made of SAP. When these pads are flushed, they block sewage lines as these chemicals absorb all the water in the sewage line. Disposed used sanitary pads cause occupational hazards for waste pickers who use their bare hands to sort out garbage. This is a health hazard. The common practice is to incinerate used sanitary pads. This releases dioxins and furans, creating an environmental hazard.

Affordability: In developing countries, the price of sanitary pads is often prohibitive for most of the population. About 70 percent of Indian women still cannot afford sanitary pads and use unhygienic rags. In a 2012 study on diffusion and adaptation of sanitary pads to the target group, it was found that working status, education, type of home, and monthly household incomes influence the usage of sanitary napkins. The reason behind its cost is the fact that most of the material used is imported from developed places. This ultimately increases the cost of the product.

Structure of sanitary napkins:

There are four functional components of a sanitary napkin: (i) fluid acquisition layer (ii) distribution component (iii) absorbent structure (iv) liquid impervious membrane.

(i) Fluid acquisition layer: A lot of R&D has been done to keep the top surface dry so that it does not cling to the body and fits comfortably. This layer is a perforated film that allows liquid to pass through it quickly into the absorbent structure and stays dry since the fluid is entrapped in the structure. It thus reduces the chance of leakage.

(ii) Distribution component: This component spreads out the fluid, especially in the longitudinal direction, for better utilization of the product. By spreading fluid, it increases the probability of more retention of fluid.

(iii) Absorbent structure: One of the main characteristics of sanitary pads is to absorb body fluid and retain it for a long period of time and avoid backflow under pressure.

(iv) Liquid impervious membrane: This is the last layer. It acts as a barrier to prevent fluid from leaking.

Performance characteristic of sanitary napkin:

Liquid flow through the interface among these three components (top layer, an absorbent layer, and barrier film) and mainly within the absorbent component is the key factor in deciding the performance of a sanitary napkin. To understand the working principle of sanitary napkins we have to consider the flow path of fluid through each layer of a sanitary pad.

As fluid comes vertically in contact with the first layer, it moves across the fluid acquisition layer to the absorbent layer without spreading in the facing layer. Once the fluid reaches the absorbent layer, it spreads and can be held without reversing flow direction.

The first problem in sanitary pads is the interface between the acquisition layer and the absorbent layer. The acquisition layer is mainly made up of hydrophobic fiber and the absorbent layer is composed of hydrophilic fiber so the fluid must get readily transferred from the acquisition layer to the absorbing medium. Transfer of fluid from one layer to another will fail if there is not enough intimate contact between the two layers. Any gap will alter the pattern of flow and liquid may spill and lead to failure of the product.

Almost all sanitary pads use fluffed cellulosic pulp as the core component of the absorbent material. This fluff is prepared by defibrillation of unopened compressed cellulosic boards. There is always a chance of some amount of unopened board which gives heterogeneity to the absorbent material. Therefore, uneven flow and retention of fluid will be different from the rest of the area.

Performance of sanitary pads can be evaluated on fluid retention capacity or the amount of fluid sustained after applying pressure. One factor which affects fluid retention is density. Modern commercial sanitary pads are made from super-absorbent fiber used in compressed and uncompressed form. Density significantly influences the absorption and stability of the product. A highly compressed fiber will expand on absorption whereas, in the case of lightly compressed fiber, it will collapse as a result of absorption. So compression of absorbent material is necessary to maintain its structural integrity.

Choice of raw material:

(i) Fluid transfer layer: The top layer is designed to transfer fluid from the top cover to the immediate secondary layer. An efficient sanitary pad should be dry for comfort. Traditional sanitary pads were of multilayer cellulosic material. Instead of dripping down, fluid tended to remain at or near the surface. This led to discomfort so one proposed solution has been to use thermoplastic fiber. It has been found that at least 20 percent of the fiber should be hydrophilic to provide sufficient capillary attraction to pull the fluid through the cover and provide a dry surface.

(ii) Acquisition and distributing layer: As the absorbent core cannot absorb fluid immediately, so this layer imbibes the fluid, drawing it away from the point of discharge, distributes it laterally, and holds it for the core to absorb. It is generally made up of thermally bonded or air bonded composite non-woven.

(iii) Absorbent layer: The absorbent core of the sanitary pad is generally made up of cellulosic pulp but there have been some changes in the composition. Nowadays, SAP is air-laid with pulp and used to increase absorbency. The position of this polymer is important as it may clog the pore of the structure and restrict absorption of fluid, so the SAP polymer is affixed to tissue and placed between the pulp and back sheet.

(iv) Barrier sheet: The back sheet is a fluid impermeable sheet that prevents leakage, generally made up of polyethylene.

Tests to evaluate performance:

Absorbency test:

This method determines the total absorption capacity of the material. According to the test standard ISO 5405-1980, a sample is laid on a flat level and transparent surface, so that the underside of the pad can be observed. The fluid is to be dripped, at the rate of 15ml per minute, so that 30 ml of the fluid maintained at a temperature of 2702C is poured onto the center of the sanitary pad from a height of approx. 1 to 2 mm. After the napkin has absorbed the full amount of fluid, the standard weight of 1 kg is put above the sample for a minute on the portion where the fluid is absorbed. After that, the back and sides of the pad are observed for fluid flowing up. The reading is recorded.

Fluid Retention capacity:

The measurement of fluid retention is determined by using the standard ASTM D 461. A sample of the pad is to be immersed in the fluid at room temperature for five minutes to completely wet it out. The fluid clogged sanitary napkin is weighted, dried, and reweighed. Fluid retention is calculated as a percentage of dry mass.

Liquid strike through the test:

A drop of test solution is allowed to fall on the sample and the time taken for the solution to transport from the upper layer of the napkin to the inner layers of the sample. This is measured by observing the drop closely so that the dull wet spot is seen on the wet area of the sample. All samples should be conditioned for 24 hours before the tests.

Sanitary pad manufacturers are more interested in increasing the performance of pads by using material derived from crude petroleum. This has negative environmental impacts and is a health hazard.

Designing a sanitary pad safe to health, biodegradable, sustainable, and affordable for lower-income class women has become a challenge. An alternative raw material has to be found to replace these synthetic fibers and polymers.

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Are Masks Safe?

Face masks are a simple way to help decrease coronavirus transmission and save lives. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, wearing a face mask in public places has been shown to reduce the spread of COVID-19, because those who are pre-symptomatic can spread the virus before showing symptoms. However, some masks are more effective than others.

How do the different types of masks work?

Medical masks

Also called surgical masks, these are loose-fitting disposable masks. They’re meant to protect the wearer from contact with droplets and sprays that may contain germs. A medical mask also filters out large particles in the air when the wearer breathes in.

To make medical masks more form-fitting, knot the ear loops where they attach to the mask. Then fold and tuck the unneeded material under the edges.

N95 masks

An N95 mask is a type of respirator. It offers more protection than a medical mask does because it filters out both large and small particles when the wearer inhales.

Because N95 masks have been in short supply, the CDC has said they should be reserved for health care providers. Health care providers must be trained and pass a fit test before using an N95 mask. Like surgical masks, N95 masks are intended to be disposable. However, researchers are testing ways to disinfect and reuse them.

Some N95 masks, and even some cloth masks, have valves that make them easier to breathe through. Unfortunately, these masks don’t filter the air the wearer breathes out. For this reason, they’ve been banned in some places.

Cloth masks

A cloth mask is intended to trap respiratory droplets that are released when the wearer talks, coughs, or sneezes. It also acts as a barrier to protect the wearer from inhaling droplets released by others.

The most effective cloths masks are made of multiple layers of tightly-woven fabric like cotton. A mask with layers will stop more droplets from getting through your mask or escaping from it.

Face masks with valves:

These masks may make it easier to breathe out, but as the wearer is doing so, they’re also exhaling their germs into the air around them. Increasingly more medical facilities around the country have banned the use of masks with valves. They do a good job protecting the wearer, but because of the one-way valves, they don’t offer much protection to the people around the wearer. If the wearer is contagious, either knowingly or unknowingly, they could still be spreading the virus to others around them. Since the main reason to wear a mask is to protect others, a simpler mask with a filter may be a better choice.

How to get the cost from your mask

The effectiveness of cloth and medical masks can be improved by ensuring that the masks are well fitted to the contours of your face to prevent leakage of air around the masks’ edges.

Masks should be snug over the nose, mouth, and chin, with no gaps. You should feel warm air coming through the front of the mask when you breathe out. You shouldn’t feel air coming out under the edges of the mask.

Masks that have a bendable nose strip help prevent air from leaking out of the top of the mask.

Some people choose to wear a disposable mask under their cloth mask. In that case, the cloth mask should press the edges of the disposable mask against the face. Don’t add layers if they make it hard to breathe or obstruct your vision.

Proper use, storage, and cleaning of masks also affect how well they protect you. Follow these steps for putting on and taking off your mask:

  • Wash or sanitize your hands before and after putting on your mask.
  • Place your mask over your mouth and nose and chin.
  • Tie it behind your head or use ear loops. Make sure it’s snug.
  • Don’t touch your mask while wearing it.
  • If you accidentally touch your mask, wash or sanitize your hands.
  • If your mask becomes wet or dirty, switch to a clean one. Put the used mask in a sealable bag until you can get rid of it or wash it.
  • Remove the mask by untying it or lifting off the ear loops without touching the front of the mask or your face.
  • Wash your hands immediately after removing your mask.
  • Regularly washcloth masks in the washing machine or by hand. (They can be washed along with another laundry.)

And don’t forget these precautions:

  • Don’t put masks on anyone who has trouble breathing or is unconscious or otherwise unable to remove the mask without help.
  • Don’t put masks on children under 2 years of age.
  • Don’t use face masks as a substitute for physical distancing.

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Why is PPE Essential?

Healthcare personnel delivers care directly or indirectly to patients infected with pandemic diseases like SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome), avian influenza (bird flu), H1N1 (swine flu), and multidrug-resistant tuberculosis.

They also prevent the further spread of these infectious diseases. It is necessary for healthcare personnel to wear Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to limit morbidity and mortality of patients in their care, as well as themselves, their family members, and other members of the community to prevent a pandemic’s larger societal progression.

In the last few decades, the transmission mechanisms of pandemic infectious pathogens from a patient to healthcare personnel have been thoroughly investigated to develop PPE. Through these investigations, it has been found that infectious pathogens can be transferred to healthcare personnel through their respiratory organs and dermis via air and liquids (water, blood, etc.), and through mucus membranes (eyes, nose, etc). Thus, respiratory, dermal, and mucus membrane protection are essential for healthcare personnel.

Consequently, different types of PPE have been developed and made commercially. Commonly used PPE includes medical masks, respirators, gloves, gowns, and eye protectors. Some other types of PPE, such as face shields, are also occasionally used by healthcare personnel. Among these, respiratory (medical masks, respirators, etc.) and dermal (gloves, gowns, etc.) protective equipment are primarily textile-based and used regularly by healthcare personnel.

Why is PPE essential?

The use of PPE has recently been prominent in health care institutions such as hospitals, clinics, and clinical laboratories during this Pandemic.

When used correctly, PPE works as a barrier between infectious viruses and bacteria and the human body. They stop them from contaminating the skin, mouth, nose, or eyes (different mucous membranes). PPE has a major role to play in blocking the transmission of contaminants through blood, body fluids, or respiratory secretions.

PPE has definitely played a significant role in containing the Covid-19 Pandemic in most of the countries around the world.

The growing demand of PPE

Healthcare Personal Protective Equipment is witnessing a surge in demand amidst the COVID-19 pandemic across the globe as PPE for healthcare workers is crucial to fight against the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). Gloves, Face Shields, Goggles, Face Masks, Coveralls, Head Covers, and Boots are among some of the personal protective equipment with rising global demand.

The key factors which can play a major role to drive the market for the PPE Industry include increasing awareness about the importance of healthcare safety, safety preparedness at healthcare facilities, implementation of stringent safety norms, and emphasizing labor safety at the workplace.

PPE for Healthcare Sector

Different PPE is used for different situations in the healthcare sector from Head to Toe. Chemical Splash Goggles are used for optimum protection against biological splashes in hospitals. Disposable Workwear that does not allow penetration of any chemical or bio agent is used for protecting the body. Face Masks like N95 are suitable to fight against harmful air-borne pathogens, preventing them to enter the human body through the nose or mouth. Similarly, Face Shields are used to act as a barrier, protecting the eyes, nose, and mouth of the user.

There are some important aspects to consider while protecting the health and safety of doctors, nurses and other health care staff. First is to develop awareness on choosing the right PPE depending on a particular situation. Further, it is extremely important to acquire the right training on how to wear different PPE and making sure to understand the correct disposal and storage methods as per health institution guidelines. With any type of contaminated waste, there is always a possibility of cross-contamination, so any medical PPE has to be properly discarded and disposed of.

We are hopeful that while the world will beat this Pandemic with cohesive efforts, we shall never forget the lessons it has taught. Personal safety needs and requirements are going to be the top priority for everyone around the world.