The days in which medical PPE was easily found for sale online available to buy in bulk and wholesale in the United States are long gone. Now, it’s difficult to find some of the most popular respirators, including the 3M N95 masks like the 3M 8210 and 3M 8511. With healthcare centers struggling to find the supplies they need, decontamination and sterilization techniques are important right now. Here’s what the CDC recommends:
Recommendations by the CDC for decontamination of FFPs
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a series of recommendations for extending the functional life of a single respirator or FFP. These recommendations are particularly useful today during the COVID-19 pandemic, in which healthcare centers are needing the crucial medical supplies that have been scarce since the beginning of the pandemic in March, including surgical masks, gloves, face shields, KN95 masks, sanitizer, gowns, and N95 masks.
They primarily encourage the limited reuse of FFPs during this emergency, which according to their website, is “the practice of using the same N95 FFR or other filtering facepiece respirator for multiple encounters with patients but removing it after each encounter”. They make sure to differentiate this practice from extended use, which they define as the cases in which “the same FFR is worn continuously for encounters with multiple patients”.
During limited reuse of the FFR, they are stored between the encounters, and the decontamination of N95 masks and other FFRs can be considered as a part of the strategy known as limited reuse. They say that when supplies are too constrained, N95 respirator limited reuse with decontamination may be even necessary.
They define decontamination as “a process to reduce the number of pathogens on used FFRs before reusing them”. This method is used to limit as much as possible the probability of performing self-contamination, a situation in which the person can get infected with the pathogen by inoculating it with their own hands.
The CDC clearly states that the decontamination and subsequent reuse of respirators is a practice only to be done when there are shortages of FFRs, and that decontamination can only be done to FFRs that are NIOSH-approved and that don’t have exhalation valves.
According to the CDC, to this day, there aren’t methods for FFR decontamination that is authorized by the manufacturer. The only method or way to decontaminate each specific FFR model is the manufacturer, which reliably guides how to decontaminate them. If there isn’t any guidance by the manufacturer, decontamination companies, research laboratories, safety organizations, and other third parties, can also provide reliable guidance and methods on the best way to decontaminate a respirator without an impact on their performance.
Effective decontamination methods have to meet the following characteristics:
- Reduce the pathogen burden.
- Not affect the fit or filtration performance.
- Have no residual chemical hazard.
As of April of 2020, NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) has found that some potential methods for FFR decontamination are: vaporous hydrogen peroxide, moist heat, and ultraviolet germicidal irradiation. And, in March of this year, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted the first Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) to a process for decontamination.
Along with the manufacturer and a third-party expert, if needed, the effectiveness of any decontamination method mentioned by their guidance has to be explored specifically for each FFR model. This is to fully understand the impact on the respirator efficacy, including both the fit and the filtration performance, as well as the integrity of the face mask, the method can have.
This way, employers are required to be able to demonstrate how effective the method they’re going to use is, with special concern being placed on the SARS-CoV-2 virus. They also need to make sure the method doesn’t add any other safety hazards to the environment, or that the workers will be adequately protected from them.
When discussing medical personal protective equipment (PPE), the term “FFP” or “FFR” is often thrown around. Filtering facepieces have been on the news lately because of the shortages of this product, particularly N95 masks, which have been the focus of research and concern. With all the new terms used during the last several months, it’s easy to get confused, so let’s explain what an FFP is.
A filtering facepiece respirator, as the name might suggest, is the term used to refer to any type of particulate respirator in which the filter (the part that traps the harmful particles) is an integral part of the mask (that is, the facepiece), or if the entire mask is made of the filter material. So, the bottom line is that the entire mask is the filter, and they’re not separate from each other.
The term also refers to a type of respirator known as a negative-pressure particulate respirator, meaning that the air pressure on the inner part of the respirator is negative in respect to the one on the other side when the wearer inhales. This negative pressure is produced when the wearer inhales. All FFPs need to be certified by NIOSH, the institution inside the USA in charge of regulating respirators.
FFPs are widely used around the world in many work-settings where there are harmful particles like dust or coal smoke. But, particularly now they’ve been used for virus protection, N95 respirators, which have high antiviral properties against the flu virus or the coronavirus.
Other reusable or disposable face masks can be easily found online, with options in a smaller size for kids too. It’s everybody’s job to stay protected, and anyone who uses face-covering is helping the healthcare workers on the frontlines of the pandemic.