The N95 mask experiences scarcity due to its overwhelming demands. This is because the N95 mask is the most effective line of defense among people, both front liners and ordinary consumers. But as case counts continue to add every day, the supply for the N95 mask slowly depletes.
This forces the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to create mitigations in preserving the nearly depleting supply of the N95 mask. In a publication they have posted, there are several ways of preserving the N95 mask. One of which is through disinfecting or sterilizing the used N95 mask. Disinfecting the used N95 mask can help healthcare workers to extend the utility of the mask.
Safety in reusing the N95 mask
Normally, once an N95 mask is being utilized, the mask is already contaminated. The N95 mask must be disposed of properly. The N95 mask is only good for one-time utility. With the scarcity of the N95 mask, reusing the N95 mask stirs the pot of discussion whether it is safe or not. However, with the recommendation of CDC in disinfecting the used N95 masks and carrying out the proper procedures, it is safe.
What are some of the most effective ways to sterilize the N95 mask?
UV Sterilization or UV Disinfection works through the process of decomposition. Strains of bacteria and viruses that are present on the surface of the N95 mask are broken down. Ultraviolet or UV light targets the bacteria or viruses’ DNA or RNA and breaks it down. An N95 mask that is sterilized under UV light is considered safe to use. Once bacteria and viruses are unable to reproduce or multiply, they are considered dead. This process can go about 60 minutes or so.
Vaporized Hydrogen Peroxide
Using Vaporized Hydrogen Peroxide or VHP to decontaminate the used N95 mask is considered to be the most effective and the most time-efficient. The process goes for about 10 minutes. Liquid Hydrogen Peroxide is vaporized at 120oC. The vapor targets bacteria and viruses inside a chamber, killing every single microorganism present.
Spraying disinfectant spray on the surface of the contaminated N95 mask can eliminate up to 99.9% of bacteria and viruses, including the coronavirus. However, it might endanger the health of the wearer because some disinfectant sprays contain dangerous chemicals. These dangerous chemicals might be the cause of someone’s death and not the virus itself. That is why after spraying the disinfectant on the surface of the N95 mask, it is best to leave the mask for about 5 minutes.
Dry Heat Disinfection
Using Dry Heat can help eliminate bacteria and viruses on the surface of the used N95 mask. Heat is absorbed by the N95 mask to ensure that all microorganisms that live on the surface of the mask die. The heat ranges from 160oC to 170oC.
Ethanol is a variety of alcohol that is used as a disinfectant. If the concentration reaches 80%, ethanol is proven to be effective in eliminating microorganisms on the surface of the N95 mask. Ethanol first targets the fat membrane and once the membrane is diffused, the insides are now exposed; making the microorganism easier to eliminate.
With the five ways of disinfecting the N95 mask, using VHP and UV light are the most effective. However, they are the most expensive. A machine is used to contain the vapor where the used N95 masks are disinfected. The UV light on the other hand also uses a machine to contain the light for it is harmful to the skin. These two methods are widely used in hospitals as they can afford the proper equipment in sterilizing their used N95 masks.
For people who are not working as a front liner, using dry heat and disinfectant spray can be their way to disinfecting their used N95 mask. These methods do not need any additional equipment and are attainable inside their homes.
Before disinfecting the used N95 masks, there are several items that people should notice.
- The Fit. The N95 mask is capable of creating a tight fit on the area of the nose. If the used N95 mask no longer creates a tight fit, discard the mask. This will potentially lead to leakage and can contaminate the wearer.
- Discoloration. The N95 mask must retain its original color. Any form of discoloration due to fluid contamination on the surface of the N95 mask should lead the mask to its proper disposal.
- Overall condition. There should be no form of tearing on the N95 mask. Any sign of tearing on the mask or even on its straps should lead to the mask to its proper disposal.
Other than disinfecting the used N95 masks, the CDC also advises the public to leave the N95 masks to healthcare workers and first responders. With the scarcity of the N95 masks, it is best to let these people have the N95 mask. Since they are part of the workforce that faces covid-patients or attends to covid-related incidents, protection from the N95 mask is needed. Also, this gives these people the opportunity to serve the public even better. With an N95 mask on, these people can be protected and at the same time help others who are suffering from the virus. The CDC has generated a list of potential alternatives to the N95 mask for ordinary consumers to use.