What new research is suggesting about the reuse of N95 masks

N95 respirator:

N95 face filtrating respirators are protective masks, more commonly referred to as N95 masks, that filter out harmful airborne particles and prevent us from inhaling them. N95 masks protect us from both tiny and large particles present in the air around us; the '95' in N95 informs us that filtering harmful airborne particles is at least 95 percent effective.

An N95 mask acts as a barrier between you and the outside atmosphere to protect you from dangerous fine particles and viruses suspended in the air. However, an N95 mask must be the correct size for you in order to achieve well-sealed protection against airborne toxins. Gaps can result in a mask that is too big, exposing us to tiny airborne particles that are hazardous to our health.

Put your hands over the filter surface to check if a good seal is achieved by the mask, and blow out to check for any leaks. If you sense the air escaping from the edges of the mask, this means that it has not obtained a full seal.

What new research is suggesting about the reuse of N95 masks?

The Centers for Disease Control has laid out strategies to maximize the supply of N95 respirators, one of the most common pieces of PPE, in the face of demand induced by the Covid-19 pandemic. Until discarding them, healthcare workers are also supposed to reuse their N95 masks multiple times.

However, during encounters with coronavirus patients, the masks can become contaminated, placing the wearer at risk of contracting the virus when the mask is removed and reapplied several times.

According to the National Institutes of Health sciences, N95 respirators can be efficiently decontaminated and retain functional integrity for up to three applications. N95 respirators are designed for single-use and are used to minimize exposure to airborne infectious agents, including the virus that causes COVID-19, by health care professionals.

The research was performed in a managed laboratory environment, and the results were posted today on a preprint server (external link). The results are not yet peer-reviewed but are being shared to assist in the response of public health to COVID-19.

From the N95 fabric research samples, all different methods removed detectable viable viruses;

Ethanol spray:

The decontamination of small portions of the N95 filter fabric exposed to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, at the University of California, Los Angeles. Vaporized hydrogen peroxide (VHP), 70-degree Celsius dry heat, ultraviolet light, and 70 percent ethanol spray were among the decontamination methods tested.

After two decontamination sessions, the scientists found that ethanol spray weakened the integrity of the fit and seal of the respirator, and therefore do not recommend it for decontaminating N95 respirators.

After three decontaminations, UV and heat-treated respirators started to demonstrate fit and seal issues, indicating that these respirators might theoretically be re-used twice. There were no failures in the VHP-treated masks, meaning they could theoretically be re-used three times.

Reuse Using an Electric Cooker:

This research shows that N95 masks with electric cookers can be efficiently decontaminated. A new paper by University of Illinois researchers describes how the team used an electric cooker to give dry heat treatments to N95 respirators that disinfected them without sacrificing their performance.

Researchers at Chung Shan Medical University in Taiwan experimented with a number of alternative sterilization methods for N95 respirators until coronavirus lockdowns started to sweep in the United States.

Their findings showed that soaking the masks in bleach or alcohol dramatically lowered their filtration quality. Dry heating them in a rice cooker, however, effectively sterilized the masks while causing the least amount of filtration damage of any other process tested.

Researchers at the University of Illinois distinguished their analysis from previous studies by placing emphasis on and testing according to the four guidelines laid out by 3 M, the main producer of the common mask, for N95 respirator reuse.

For health care staff, this study may be especially beneficial, although the researchers noted that more studies on different types of respirators are required because different materials could need different temperatures and decontamination times.

UV light disinfection rays:

Researchers at the University of Chicago have built a better, easier way to use ultraviolet light to decontaminate N95 masks, potentially saving thousands of masks during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ultraviolet C has emerged as the ideal solution for disinfecting personal protective equipment, a wavelength of light with the potential to kill germs. But while it is simple to deploy and widely applicable, the technique is not without its drawbacks; UV systems can cast shadows, leaving sections of surfaces in the dark, as with any light.

To fix this issue, an N95 respirator decontamination cabinet was designed and manufactured by Peter Eng., an experimental physicist and research professor at Chicago, which has a UV lamp arrangement that removes shadowing and optimizes the dose on all mask surfaces.

Cutting-edge techniques to increase the lifespan of N95 masks and make it reusable:

Cutting-edge techniques specific to the CLS allow the team to explore in the mask minute information that would be difficult to see in other techniques. X-rays provided by the synchrotron are used by CLS Industrial Scientist Toby Bond to see the tightly woven, microscopic fibers that are crucial to the filtering power of N95 respirators.

By their ability to remove at least 95% of particles circulating in the air, N95 respirators get their name. These unique masks are used for defense against COVID-19 by frontline health-care workers.

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