The N95 mask has been around protecting people for ages. The N95 mask has a solid reputation for being the most effective protective mask. The N95 mask can filter particles up to 95%. The N95 mask is also the most trusted mask for it is approved by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).
With the efficacy of the N95 mask in protecting people, the pandemic obstructed the supply for the N95 mask; making it short in hospitals. Healthcare workers were forced to reuse their used N95 masks for the benefit of preserving the remaining supply.
What are the contributors to the scarcity of the N95 mask?
The scarcity of the N95 mask is a testament to fragility according to healthcare experts. Although no one has anticipated such potency, the scarcity of protective masks like the N95 mask is a sign of weakness in the healthcare industry. There are several contributors to the scarcity of the N95 mask.
Given the effectiveness of the N95 mask, the N95 mask became the most in-demand mask. Before the pandemic was felt worldwide, several incidents happened around the globe that needed the protection of the N95 mask. The demand for the N95 mask plummeted to overwhelming rates when the pandemic had gone viral.
Incidents of looting and price gouging
Incidents of looting and price gouging led some people to be apprehended by the government. With the effectiveness of the N95 mask, looting pieces of the N95 mask was their way of surviving the pandemic. To earn instant cash, these people have sold the looted pieces of the N95 mask to such bloated price rates. Looting pieces of the N95 mask have contributed greatly to depleting the supply.
What is the recommendation of the CDC?
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommended using disinfection methods to help preserve the limited supply of the N95 mask. For hospitals, they can use Vaporized Hydrogen Peroxide and Ultraviolet (UV) Light Irradiation. These methods have proven to be effective in decomposing viruses and bacteria on the surface of the N95 mask.
However, common households cannot afford such procedures in disinfecting their used N95 masks. These methods need special equipment to contain vapor and UV light while the disinfection of the used N95 mask commences.
It is common knowledge in households to use alcohol as a disinfectant. It helps kill germs, bacteria, and viruses that can cause infection. With this knowledge, some households are using alcohol as a disinfecting agent for them to preserve their used N95 mask. Would this be okay?
Would alcohol be as effective as a decontaminating agent?
Using alcohol as a decontaminating agent is plausible. There are two variants of alcohol that have disinfecting properties; isopropyl and ethanol. Both alcohol variants can eliminate bacteria and viruses on the surface of the N95 mask. With 50% to 70% concentration, spraying alcohol on the surface of the N95 mask is okay.
How to use ethanol and isopropyl alcohol as disinfecting agents?
Obtaining pure ethanol and isopropyl alcohol can be tough, diluting these alcohol variants into 50% to 70% solutions can still be effective. The solution is safe. The alcohol variants can penetrate to the surface of the virus and bacteria. Although slow, this is effective. It is best to leave the solution to dry on the surface of the used N95 mask. This ensures that the microorganisms present on the surface of the N95 mask are eliminated.
The downside to using alcohol
Using alcohol is deemed plausible for households to use as a disinfecting agent. However, American researchers have found out that spraying alcohol can deteriorate the filtration efficiency of the N95 mask. Although it is okay, the filtration efficiency decreased by 40%. With only 55% efficiency, reusing the N95 mask can endanger the wearer.
What are other alternatives that people can use?
Aside from spraying alcohol, people can use heat as a method of disinfection. American researchers have figured the right temperature which played around 160oC to 170oC. Heat eliminates bacteria and viruses successfully. After 10 to 20 cycles of using heat, the filtration efficiency of the N95 mask did not degenerate.
Another method is using the disinfectant spray. There are disinfectant sprays that destroy bacteria and viruses up to 99.9%. Spraying it on the surface of the used N95 mask can help deteriorate the viruses and bacteria, leaving no trace of mutation. You have to leave the sprayed N95 mask for a few minutes before donning it. Inhaling the disinfectant spray can be harmful.
Other alternatives like using bleach to clean the N95 mask is not advisable. Bleach is a strong base that can affect the filtration ability of the N95 mask. Also, the fibers of the N95 mask can deteriorate due to the strength of the bleach. The same goes for steam. If people are disinfecting cloth-based N95 masks, steam can damage the surface of the N95 mask. Steam can accumulate water on the surface, destroying the N95 mask slowly.
While on quarantine, disinfecting masks like the N95 mask can be done by people at home. However, choosing the right disinfection method and agent is crucial to the survival of the N95 mask. The agent alone can destroy the efficacy of the N95 mask, making it as equivalent as a disposal of the mask. After all, reusing the mask is achievable. This action is indeed helpful so that more first responders and frontline workers can have more supplies of the mask.