If you’re a woman in your childbearing years, the threat of Zika virus and mosquito bites is probably on your mind. That’s why Canadian funding is being poured into a women’s health company that’s created a line of anti-Zika apparel, weaving mosquito repellent nanotechnology into everyday clothing.
There are hoodies, leggings, a dress and scarves for versatile wear. The clothing is meant for women who may have pregnancy on their minds to expectant moms shopping for maternity clothes, according to Maternova cofounder and CEO, Meg Wirth.
“When the Zika epidemic hit, we were tracking the virus and we became aware of a gap in defending women against Zika. It’s just the basic question of how do you protect yourself during the day without having to slather your body with insecticide,” Wirth told Global News.
“We were well-positioned to act quickly when Zika virus appeared and came up with a creative solution,” she said.
Maternova works on creating products that promote women’s health. It’s based in Providence, R.I., but the company won a $25,000 grant from Grand Challenges Canada. GCC is funded by the federal government and its grant program helps pay for research in developing ways to treat diseases in the developing world.
So far, Maternova created a device that helps women stop bleeding after giving birth, which is a dangerous issue in the developing world. With Canadian funding, it’s also built a cuff to check for vital signs in pregnant women that can be used in low resource settings.
In total, there are about 40 products.
With the clothing line, Maternova relied on nanotechology to embed scentless mosquito-repellent into the textile. It’s a patented technology, Wirth said.
“It’s very different from current approaches so even if you sprayed your clothing or went through the process of microencapsulating, this embeds longer with no odour and sticks around with more washings,” Wirth said.
It also helps with warding off mosquitoes that carry malaria or Dengue virus.
The company teamed up with Brazilian-born, Miami-based fashion designer Alessandra Gold to design the clothing. They chose leggings because mosquitoes tend to bite around the ankles, a cardigan with a hood and sleeves that cover the wrists and hands, and a dress and scarf that can be worn in different ways.
“It was carefully conceived to have maximum coverage but still be stylish and attractive,” Wirth said.
Women can wear it for daily use, while expectant moms can wear the clothing well into their pregnancies because there are expandable waistbands built into the inner lining.
“The idea behind it is women and girls can use it in their everyday lives. It’s to cover women who may be working all day outside by a river, or inside the house, but also very well off women in Rio de Janiero or Miami who want coverage when they’re outside,” Wirth said.
So far, the company sent its products to parts of South America in anti-Zika kits for women. The shirts are included with bed nets, condoms, skin repellant and other tools.
Maternova’s next steps are to get the clothing into stores – women who may be travelling to areas where mosquitoes are prevalent could be interested, Wirth said.
But the company’s main priority is focusing on getting their clothing into health facilities that need it.
For the entire calendar year, global health officials monitored the mosquito-borne virus that’s tied to serious birth defects in developing babies.
Zika virus has touched virtually every part of the Americas, except for Chile and Canada because these nations don’t carry the Aedes Egypti mosquitoes that spread the disease.
By September, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization (WHO) told couples to hold off on unprotected sex for six months after visiting a Zika-affected region, even without showing symptoms.
Zika has been linked to a 20-fold increase in a rare defect called microcephaly in babies, in which newborns are born with irregularly small heads and underdeveloped brains.
The CDC offers this world map of Zika-affected regions pregnant women should avoid.
© 2016 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.