What does the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health say about the sterilization of n95 masks?

The N95 mask is considered the most effective mask to be used as protection in this time of the pandemic. Medical experts have been wearing the N95 mask even before the pandemic started. The N95 mask is not only popular in the medical field, but it is also popular in the field of Construction, Engineering, and Mining. In fact, the market growth for the N95 mask expanded; making it the most in-demand mask.

Being the most in-demand mask, the N95 mask is experiencing scarcity. The overwhelming demand for the N95 mask contributed to the scarcity issue. The N95 mask became in-demand before the pandemic had started. Natural phenomena occurred in some parts of the world, like the volcanic eruption in the Philippines and Forest fires in Australia. When the pandemic began, the demand for the N95 mask skyrocketed.

The N95 mask is efficient in filtering particles and bacteria up to 95%. Made from non-latex materials, the N95 mask is proven to be safe and cannot induce irritation. The N95 mask can even filter finer grains of sand, powdered cement, and volatile gases. Approved and regulated by the National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety (NIOSH) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the N95 mask is ensured to be of top quality.

But the issue of scarcity cannot be overshadowed by the efficiency of the N95 mask. The shortage triggers the health and welfare of healthcare workers. Without the N95 mask, healthcare workers are more exposed to the virus.

Together with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and NIOSH, they have created measures that address the shortage of the N95 mask. In fact, this is in line with the isolated reports of reusing the N95 mask.

Decontamination of the N95 mask

Under the Strategies for Optimizing the Supply of N95 masks produced by CDC, decontamination does not increase the frequency of the N95 mask utilization. According to the CDC, decontamination only disables the capability of the virus to multiply and does not guarantee a restored ability of the N95 mask. In fact, under the published strategies, the performance of the N95 mask slowly depletes depending on the frequency of donning and doffing of the mask. The performance of the N95 mask also decreases if the mask is decontaminated a number of times. This means the filtration efficiency and the fit of the mask are at stake if the mask is decontaminated frequently.

In the published guideline, the manufacturers of the N95 mask are the most reliable source of procedures for proper decontamination of the mask. A third party like NIOSH can provide ways of decontamination without sacrificing the efficiency of the N95 mask. Decontamination must be done and evaluated, depending on the mask model that is used in the facility. The methodology must be assessed and the following data must be recorded:

  • The decontamination procedure invalidates viruses’ and bacteria’s ability to multiply.
  • The filtration efficiency is stable after every decontamination process.
  • The fit of the mask is in good condition after every decontamination process.
  • Gassing the N95 mask is below the permitted level.

What are some decontamination methods recognized by NIOSH?

There are ways to decontaminate the used N95 mask. Each method varies from one another and these are all recognized and proven to be effective by NIOSH and CDC.

Using Vaporized Hydrogen Peroxide or VHP in decontaminating the used N95 mask is the most effective and the most time-efficient procedure. 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.

Another way of decontamination is by using Dry Heat. 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 are unable to reproduce. The heat ranges from 160oC to 170oC.

Lastly, UV Sterilization or UV Disinfection works through decomposition. Bacteria and viruses that are 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.

Once decontaminated, does it mean the N95 mask is coronavirus free?

After disinfection, the N95 mask is still open to the threat of the virus. Disinfecting the used N95 mask does not damage the mask itself but once used again, it can still be a potential surface for the bacteria and virus to live on. This is still a threat to masks like the N95 mask. Disinfection may have established a reputation of removing and eliminating strains of bacteria and viruses off of surfaces of the N95 mask. But this does not mean that the disinfected N95 mask is free from the threat of coronavirus. In a simpler sense, decontamination is temporary mitigation against the virus. It does not help the N95 mask in blocking strains of viruses and bacteria.

Although NIOSH and CDC have provided gauges to aid the healthcare workers, reusing the N95 mask will always remain a great threat to their health. It is best to dispose of the N95 mask properly to avoid decontamination and a further surge of positive cases.

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