Several Studies Take A Look At The Effectiveness Of Sterilizing N95 Masks

As Covid-19 continues to persist in many parts of the country, many US hospitals find themselves struggling to keep up with demand for personal protective equipment (PPE) for employees. Any expected surges of Covid-19 in the fall or winter of this year could potentially lead to hospital workers being put in needless danger of catching the extremely infectious coronavirus if PPE supplies continue to run low.

Masks, specifically N95 and similar masks, continue to be one of the most sought-after pieces of PPE that hospitals continue to stockpile. Some states, such as California, are even requiring hospitals to maintain a minimum amount of PPE during the Covid-19 pandemic. With all of these pressure points, some hospitals are getting creative in setting up re-use policies for N95 masks and other PPE. This article by Christopher Cheney at HealthLeaders takes a look at various studies that have been done on sterilization of N95 masks:

“Research on sterilizing N95 respirator masks for reuse includes four recent articles.

Viable alternatives to new N95 masks

Used N95 respirator masks treated with ethylene oxide or vaporized hydrogen peroxide maintain their filtration efficiency, according to a study published by JAMA Internal Medicine. Steam sterilization distorted 1860 N95 respirator masks, rendering them unsuitable for reuse; however, steam sterilization of 1870+ Aura face masks was effective, with the masks retaining more than 95% fitted filtration efficiency after a single sterilization cycle, the study found.

The JAMA Internal Medicine study also found that N95 respirator masks as many as 11 years past their expiration date maintained their filtration efficiency.

Four N95 decontamination methods effective

A recent research article, which was published in JAMA Otolaryngology—Head & Neck Surgery, identifies four decontamination methods that can recycle N95 masks without compromising the fit of the masks or the filtering material. The sterilization methods identified are ultraviolet germicidal irradiation, vaporized hydrogen peroxide, steam treatment, and dry heat treatment.

Steam sterilization for N95 masks

Two recent studies show steam can effectively decontaminate medical masks including N95 respirator masks.

A research team in China published a study in the Journal of Medical Virology on using steam to sanitize surgical masks and N95 respirators. The sanitization process, which used avian coronavirus of infectious bronchitis virus to mimic the novel coronavirus, was simple. Contaminated masks were placed in plastic bags and steamed over boiling tap water in a kitchen pot.

Researchers at Houston Methodist Research Institute in Houston published a steam sanitization study for N95 respirator masks in the journal Infection Control & Hospital Epidemiology. The study featured five test subjects to verify mask fit after the decontamination process and a more sophisticated steam treatment method than the Chinese study.”

Read the full article here: 4 Research Articles on N95 Respirator Mask Sterilization Methods

For hospitals considering a process to decontaminate PPE to allow for multiple uses during the pandemic, they must have a reliable system in place to make sure they get maximum use out of the PPE without exceeding published guidance. Hospitals should also ensure that employees are only able to check out one mask at a time to ensure adequate supply for all frontline workers. Mobile Aspects is working with select healthcare systems on a novel tracking system to track PPE including N95 masks to make sure that maximum usage is reached without exceeding published guidelines. Contact us via our website to find out more.