“The sprays are solutions that taste very bitter or very sweet. The person wearing the mask has the solution sprayed on their face, which simulates the droplets created by coughing, and if they can taste it the mask doesn’t fit properly or is otherwise faulty.
“The solutions are easy to prepare and the materials cheap, but the hospitals don’t seem to be able to get hold of the solutions at the moment. That’s why I’m hoping the UK’s universities and distilleries can step in.”
The University of Southampton is producing between 20-40 litres per week for local hospitals, and the University of Bath has also answered the call to produce more.
Helping our medics stay safe
Dr Karen Stroobants, a science policy expert from the Royal Society of Chemistry said: “While the process is simple, it is absolutely crucial that the solutions are manufactured to the highest quality; top of that list is to make sure everything is sterile. There’s no room for error in the current medical environment.
“We’d urge anyone able to help to contact their local hospital or NHS Trust to see if there is a local requirement and, if so, any help that can be offered would be a tremendous aid in helping our medics stay safe in the fight against COVID-19.”
One of the solutions uses Bitrex as its active ingredient. Manufactured in Edinburgh by Johnson Matthey, the substance is the most bitter tasting product known. It is added to substances that would be dangerous to ingest to prevent people from doing so, and is used in a varnish to prevent people biting their nails.
The other spray is manufactured from saccharin, with the different flavours required because some people can taste one more strongly than the other. Selecting the best solution for each person ensures no false positives arise.
Can you help?
Those able to help make the solution for hospitals should contact Steve Goldup at the University of Southampton.