JUN 13, 2018 12:50 PM PDT

Hemp Fabric Kills Staph Bacteria

WRITTEN BY: Julia Travers

Staph, or Staphylococcus Aureus, infections are common in health care settings. Many can be cured with antibiotics, but not Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus Aureus, or MRSA, which can sometimes be fatal. Staph and MRSA spread through direct contact and through contact with contaminated items in hospitals, like various medical textiles and linens including sheets, towels, curtains and clothing. Fabric made from hemp has been shown to be naturally resistant to bacteria and able to kill strains of staph on its surface.

Hemp plant and fabric, credit: leafly, aliexpress

In 2006, the Association for Professionals in Infection Control & Epidemiology, or APIC, found almost 2 million Americans were infected annually during hospital stays in the U.S., and about 90,000 of these died as a result of infection. It also reported that more than 70 percent of the relevant bacteria were resistant to at least one of the drugs commonly used.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, while MRSA rates dropped between 2005 and 2011 by 31 percent, there were still more than 80,000 MRSA infections and 11,000 related deaths in 2011.

 

Hemp’s Resurgence

Hemp was used in early American commerce and culture but was long-banned for its relation to marijuana. Like its psychoactive cousin, it is now seeing renewed acceptance and legalization. A total of 39 states have “removed barriers” to industrial hemp production, according to the nonprofit Vote Hemp. Nineteen states ran hemp pilot or research programs in 2017.

Hemp can be made into fuel, fabric, soap, food and building materials, among other products. It grows in all 50 states and requires less water, land and time to grow than many plants used for fiber. For example, cotton requires about 50 percent more water each season than hemp. Hemp is known to be hardy and resistant to infestation and bacteria.

 

Hemp Fabric Fights Staph

In Glenwood Springs, CO, an industrial hemp and natural fiber company called EnviroTextiles is the largest manufacturer and importer of these textiles in America. They report that one of their materials, a 60 percent hemp and 40 percent rayon blend, was able to kill two strains of surface bacteria, including staph and Klebsiella Pneumoniae, AKA pneumonia.

The fabrics were tested when EnviroTextiles’ lead textile engineer Barbara Filippone was working on hemp textile development in China. China is currently the world leader in hemp production.

“The staph test sample was already 98.5 percent bacteria-free during the first measurement of the testing, while the pneumonia fabric sample was 65.1 percent bacteria-free,” the company site states. In contrast, bacteria can survive on polyester, cotton and polyethylene for up to months at a time.

Similarly, a 2008 study found five major cannabinoids, or consituents of cannabis, "showed potent activity against a variety of [MRSA]."

“The cannabinoids even showed exceptional activity against the MRSA strain that makes extra amounts of the proteins that give the bugs resistance against many antibiotics,” Researcher Simon Gibbons said of the findings. 

EnviroTextiles also states in a press release:

As science continues to ‘rediscover’ the benefits of hemp for society, the solution is emerging from the fog of prohibition. Hemp is no longer an ancient fiber and it is well on its way to being the future of fabric.

In 2017 alone, Americans consumed about $580 million worth of hemp products, according to the Congressional Research Service.

 

Sources:

CDC

EnviroTextiles

MIT Technology Review

About the Author
  • Julia Travers is a writer, artist and teacher. She frequently covers science, tech and conservation.
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