Silver ion antimicrobial technology is a cutting-edge field that uses microscopic particles of silver (called nanoparticles) to kill off dangerous bacteria. In the last few years, manufacturers of a variety of consumer items — including detergents, cosmetics and food receptacles — have incorporated this germ-killing technology into their products. Recently, use of silver ion technology has also entered the medical clothing field, where it can help reduce the presence of potentially deadly bacteria in hospitals.

Before the advent of modern antibiotics, doctors frequently used preparations of silver to sterilize wounds and provide protection against infections. In the modern era, scientists realized that silver nanoparticles can still play a vital role in controlling and eliminating bacteria. (Nanoparticle is the term used to describe microscopic particles of any material that have a length of less than 100 nanometers in at least one direction. For reference, a single nanometer equals one billionth of a meter.) They can play this role because their surfaces contain large numbers of charged atoms called ions. When silver ions come in contact with bacteria, they stop these pathogens’ reproductive processes and kill them.

Bacteria reduction is especially important in hospitals for several reasons. First, hospitals inevitably contain large numbers of people either infected by bacterial agents or suffering from compromised immune systems that make them susceptible to those agents. Unfortunately, bacteria can linger on hospital surfaces and get inadvertently transferred from patient to patient. This situation can result in a hospital-acquired infection, a term that describes any infection that a hospitalized patient picks up while undergoing treatment for another medical problem. Hospital personnel sometimes unintentionally act as pathways for hospital-acquired infections by carrying bacteria on a scrub uniform or scrub t-shirt.

These personnel can significantly reduce their chances of spreading infection by wearing antibacterial shirts, antibacterial scrubs or antibacterial under scrubs that take advantage of silver ion technology. One particular medical clothing material, called fibeRX yarn, incorporates this technology in a polyester product that also contains a substance called activated carbon. In each strand of fibeRX, activated carbon on the strand’s surface chemically attracts bacteria, as well as potentially dangerous species of fungi. Once these pathogens reach the yarn’s surface, silver ion nanoparticles enclosed in the yarn’s core attack them and neutralize them.

FibeRX is particularly effective against a bacterial agent called MRSA, or methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, which can trigger potentially life-threatening infections in parts of the body that include the joints, heart, bloodstream, bones and lungs. Within 10 minutes of coming into contact with FibeRX, 95 percent of MRSA bacteria die off; within half an hour, fully 99.9 percent of these bacteria die.

In addition to dealing effectively with bacteria and other pathogens, FibeRX provides other benefits that include a comfortable fit and the ability to wick away sweat and other sources of moisture. Hospital clothing that contains this polyester fabric comes in forms that include a hospital t-shirt undergarment, a nursing t-shirt undergarment, and a long-sleeve scrub undergarment. Both men and women wondering what to wear under scrubs can benefit from these antimicrobial products.