Can N95 masks be reused?

During the initial days of the COVID-19 pandemic, we were all perplexed. We had very little idea about the virus, the effects, possible causes, results, and preventive measures. And our lack of knowledge didn’t let us take this virus seriously and as a result, the virus ended up infecting millions and inviting deaths for many. Coronavirus was a completely new thing for the entire world and as we didn’t have any treatment, we couldn’t stop it.

Now, the vaccine is on its way to hit the market right after the testing process. However, the situation is better than before now and that could happen because of the precautions. Sooner the researchers got to know about the virus, they made a list for common people to stay away from this deadly microorganism. Wearing masks, washing hands, using sanitizers, keeping social distance, and having a balanced diet to boost immunity are the main precautionary measures to stop the virus from entering our body.

The N95 mask has been marked as the safest mask to prevent Covid-19. Designed for industrial purposes originally, N95 saved many lives during this period. It is one of the must-have of the PPE kit for the medical professionals and other frontline workers. There was a shortage of this mask earlier but with the collaboration of the retailers and the manufacturers, the situation is taken under control.

The market is flooded with cheap and fake N95 masks, but we all know that the authentic masks are costlier than the fake mask. CDC said that that N95 masks may be reusable depending on the sanitization process. Other than the washable masks many are confused about the process of reusing N95 masks. Here, in this blog, we are going to talk it through.

 

Ways of Extending N95 Mask’s Life

There are many ways of extending the N95 mask’s life and reusing is one of them. To understand the process thoroughly, you need to get the difference of reusing with the others.

Extended use

The CDC states that extended use of N95 masks can be up to 8 hours safe and advises each consumer to check the recommendations of individual manufacturers before implementing the strategy. Present regulations promote the carry of an N95 face shield to decrease the risk of the mask being soiled.

Reuse

Since after 72 hours of substantially loss of viability for coronaviruses, a rotation and reuse approach was proposed for a variety of organizations. The CDC recommends that masks can be reused up to five times using the following technique if no soiling and no viral infection is present on the mask.

Mask Rotation

Buy the set number of N95 masks and rotate each day so that the virus does not last, and allow them to dry up for as long as possible. For this technique, proper storage requires either hanging them to dry up or storing them with a paper bag in between. Make sure that your masks are not contaminated by each other and that your respirator is not shared with anyone. Prior to each use, a user seal inspection should be completed.

Reprocessing or Decontamination

CDCs, mask producers, and large industry partners are actively researching on mask decontamination strategies. Specific re-processing criteria include:

The method must disable the viral load on the mask sufficiently.

It is important to conserve as much as possible filtrating power and electrostatic charge.

The mask shouldn’t be soiled

There's no compromise on the fit of the mask.

 

Below is a short description of existing evidence assisted decontamination approaches. Since this work is fast, most publications are not yet reviewed by peers. N95 masks with various straps materials and shapes are available in several models. Therefore, for one form of mask, one approach will function and not for another.

Hydrogen Peroxide Vaporization

The pilot studies showed that the decontamination of hydrogen peroxide vapor was possible with appropriate preservation of function in multiple cycles of N95 processing. The Emergency Decontamination for N95 healthcare workers in the COVID-19 pandemic is now authorized by the FDA. Only N95 models that don't contain cellulose, such as 1860, can use this decontamination process. It is used in industrial installations such as Battelle and individual hospitals through equipment from Sterrad or Steris.

UV treatment

UV treatment of N95 masks requires certain dosing protocols and complete surface lighting to ensure that viral particles with minimum mask degradation are properly inactivated. Due to the required accuracy, home UV-light usage is not advised. Any healthcare system in the United States has used this form of decontamination.

Dry Heat

A method of decontamination that can adequately destroy the virus and maintain the filter integrity for reuse has been suggested as the dry heater of 70° C for 30 minutes. Recent NIH testing of the SARS-CoV-2 indicated explicitly that this method is appropriate for two cycles for destroying the virus and does not compromise its fitness.

Moist Heat

The effect of moist heat in 60-70 ° C and 80-85% relative humidity on influenza viruses was demonstrated, but limited data on temperature, humidity, and time required to inactivate viral SARS-COV-2 particles are present. Besides, the necessary virus kill parameters can have a negative impact on the mask's filtration effectiveness. This approach is not currently recommended as there is a lack of clear evidence on a protocol for achieving both goals.

For N95 masks re-use and re-processing, there are no clear "best practices." Such approaches are solutions for crisis periods and should not be used regularly if the availability of masks is adequate. The best strategy for each person or organization will differ depending on the resources available to each organization.

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