masks, face shields, and N95 masks have led to the development of decontamination processes to make these items reusable. The increased need for personal protective equipment calls for hospitals to buy disposable face masks in bulk and wholesale, but lately, they’ve been very difficult to find for sale in the United States.
Since the pandemic began, UV wands have become a popular item online in the USA. Today, we’ll discuss whether or not they can be effective for N95 masks.
N95 masks have been particularly targeted when it comes to the development of sterilization techniques because they’re the most important part of the respiratory protection healthcare workers need. They offer the best virus protection out of all the available masks out there, and this is due to their high antiviral properties.
N95 respirators can effectively filter out 95% of the airborne particles (which are those with a 0.3-micrometer size) that don’t contain any oil. Such particles can include a very diverse group that can go from dust and smoke particles to viruses like the flu or the coronavirus. So, N95 masks can have multiple uses and are necessary not only in the medical field.
Popular models include the 3M 8511, 3M 8210, and 3M 1860 3M N95 masks. However, it’s important to point out these can’t be used by kids or by people with facial hair, as this affects the fit.
UV sterilization for N95 masks
The shortages of the most important medical devices have been one of the most devastating consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many healthcare centers have had it difficult to obtain these supplies, and don’t have enough to protect all their workers. In certain situations, healthcare personnel has had to reuse N95 masks more than once, while this mask is intended to be disposable.
The decontamination using ultraviolet lights is one of the three methods the CDC and the FDA consider potentially effective for the decontamination of respirators used in healthcare environments. This method has been proven to have high antiviral properties and has been used to decontaminate other items and equipment.
Short-wave ultraviolet light has been used for disinfection for more than a century. They have been shown to inactivate and/or kill microorganisms by disrupting their replication process. However, this method hasn’t been proven to be effective in all types of microorganisms, including viruses. And, since the SARS-CoV-2 is a relatively new virus, the use of this method for it hasn’t been extensively studied.
Recent studies have shown that UV light is effective for coronaviruses, and can decontaminate N95 masks with these viruses. But, as we said, fewer studies have been done with the implementation of this method specifically for the SARS-CoV-2.
Explaining what a UV wand is and whether or not they can be used during the pandemic
UV wand disinfectants have gained popularity in recent years after other outbreaks of infectious diseases. Most of these items claim a 99.9% efficacy in killing bacteria and viruses, and they’re also portable. What else could you ask for? The descriptions for these products tend to be very alluring and can be found very easily in online stores.
However, the general public needs to know that most of these products are not what they say they are. For example, some of them would need up to 30 minutes to decontaminate a face mask and destroy the SARS-CoV-2. The use of these products could also risk accidental exposure to dangerous amounts of UV lights.
The use of these lights on respirators could give a false sense of security, since researchers currently aren’t very sure of the dose, distance, or time it would take for these wands to inactivate the SARS-CoV-2. Jung-Tsung Shen, a physicist and engineer, warns people of the false claims of effectiveness these products make, as they might not even be safe for humans.
The instructions many of these wands come with are very limited and diverse, with some saying a 5-centimeter distance from five to ten seconds would be enough, while others say that 30 seconds is the recommended time.
Shen tested one of the wands that didn’t come with any instructions. According to him, the wand only had three UV-C chips that were powered by AA batteries, which would mean the device would take a lot more than a few seconds to disinfect a surface. He said that the sellers intentionally don’t mention that the wand might take up to 30 minutes to disinfect surfaces because nobody would buy them if that were the case.
Some of these devices even have the wrong wavelengths for disinfection. According to a chemical engineering and materials scientist, Andrea Armani, this can be measured by scientists electronically or chemically. However, they give some tips for customers to spot the fake ones:
- First, make sure the wand offers a 260 nanometers range in wavelengths, which can be found in the specifications. If these aren’t available, contact the seller or look online. If none of this information is available, this is a red flag.
- The price is another clue, and if a company sells one of these products for less than $20 saying that it works in minutes, this is probably not true.
- Finally, the banana test. Place the light over a green banana for 15 minutes, if it’s a true UV-C light, the skin will turn brown.
For more information on these wands, how they work, and the scams you can find online, you can read the full article in Discovery Magazine.