N95 mask shortages during the pandemic caused major fears among the general public and healthcare facilities around the world. These N95 masks and N95 respirators along with the other personal protection equipment PPE were being used effectively to contain the spread of the virus and protect people. The demands of N95 masks soared within no time after the outbreak of the virus.
The high demands led to the shortage of these N95 masks. So, the scientists and research institutes had to find some other ways to reuse and decontaminate the already present N95 masks. This was the major concern for all healthcare institutes. Extensive research was carried on for the decontamination process of these N95 masks and different methods were developed for the sterilization and decontamination. The following are the major methods for decontaminating the N95 masks:
Researchers reported that the steam sterilization process for the decontamination of N95 masks can prove to be an effective method. During the steam sterilization process, these N95 masks and respirators retain their structural composition and afterward can be reused effectively. During the sterilization process, the masks are tested three times with the steam.
The Autoclave cycle is used to test the contaminants after the process. All the chemical testing indicates that the steam sterilization process is very effective and removes all the contaminants from the N95 masks after the procedure. CDC has verified only three to four methods for the decontamination process of N95 masks, and from all these methods this steam sterilization process is considered to be the most effective and the easiest method.
Decontamination and reuse process of the N95 surgical and the N95 medical masks is an important step when there is a shortage of personal protective equipment PPE. Apart from the steam sterilization, hydrogen peroxide treatment and UV radiation can also be used for this process. These processes are verified and approved by the CDC, FDA, and NIOSH.
Vaporized Hydrogen Peroxide Sterilization Process of N95 Masks
This method was developed by the University of Duke. Various institutes, later on, worked to check the feasibility and decontamination quality for N95 masks. The process was verified and then approved by the CDC. In this process, vaporized hydrogen peroxide is used to decontaminate the N95 masks. A special kind of equipment and set up is used for this procedure.
The contaminated masks are exposed to the vaporized hydrogen peroxide-containing environment. The amount of hydrogen peroxide inside the chamber depends upon the type of machine used. The masks are hung inside the chamber for almost 4 hours. The vapors are kept inside the chamber until the masks get sterilized.
However, the degasification process takes a lot of time. This process completes in 4 hours almost. After the degasification process, the masks are dried with the help of steam and heat. The masks are dried and then checked for the contaminants. If there are some contaminants left, the N95 masks are then again put into the chambers. So, in a way, this process ensures the complete removal of the contaminants from these N95 masks and N95 respirators and makes them reusable.
Ultraviolet Radiation Treatment of N95 Masks
This method is also considered to be the most effective method for the removal of contaminants from N95 masks and N95 respirators. This method also uses a special chamber for the sterilization process. The setup with the two towers containing the UV bulbs is placed in a room. The room is closed and the N95 masks are hung on the cloth lines. The walls of the room and made of reflective material.
The UV rays penetrate through the N95 respirators and the masks and kill all the germs. In these ways, almost all the germs and particles are removed from the masks. 90 masks can be treated with the UV rays at a time. This process is effective, as it removes the contaminants at a very faster speed.
This process has been verified by the NIOSH and FDA for the reuse process of N95 surgical and N95 medical masks. In the United States of America, almost 3.5 billion were used during the pandemic days and the shortage caused a major problem. So, these side methods for the reuse of these N95 masks proved to be very effective in saving the lives of the people.
Steaming and Hot Water Heating
During the shortage of days, not everybody was able to go to the healthcare facilities and research institutes for the decontamination process. So, different methods were developed to sterilize thee N95 masks and N95 respirators at the home. Heating at the high temperatures inside water and steaming are the two best methods for decontaminating these N95 masks.
The first process in the heating of N95 masks inside the water at a temperature higher than 56 Celsius. The masks are heated for almost 20-30 minutes. In the second step, to regain the charge of N95 masks, these masks are dried up with the hairdryer for almost 10 minutes. The charge is gained and now the N95 masks can be reused.
The second process is steaming. In steaming the N95 masks and N95 respirators are put in the steam at low temperatures. This steaming process removes all the germs and makes them reusable.
All these techniques are used for the effective sterilization of these N95 masks. These methods are verified by the CDC and FDA and have been used by various healthcare institutes to sterilize N95 masks and N95 respirators.