Disinfecting N95 masks for reuse during COVID-19 pandemic

Cleaning n95

Personal protective equipment, including masks are vital for protecting healthcare workers from infection with COVID-19. But during this pandemic with masks in high demand by hospitals and individuals alike , it’s not surprising that many institutions are facing shortfalls and are left scrambling to find alternatives. Disinfecting N95 masks for reuse may be the solution.

There are two basic masks types that are commonly used in a clinical setting. Surgical masks are more lose fitting and generally provide  good protection against larger droplets dispersed through coughs and sneezes. In contrast , N95 respirators which form a tight seal around the nose and mouth protect better against small aerosolized or airborne particles. They’re therefore considered the best type of protection against SARS-COV-2.

Many regulatory bodies have guidelines for how to address a shortage of appropriate masks during a global pandemic ; which includes allowing single use masks to be worn continuously throughout  an entire shift – the extended use , or allowing masks to be removed and put back on multiple times between patients within the same shift – known as the reuse. Nowadays, many institutions are requesting their staff to reuse the masks. But there are risks attached with the reuse including contact transmission or they may be contaminated with other common hospital pathogens.

The best way to disinfect an N95 mask.

What is the best way to disinfect an N95 mask? With a shortage of masks during the COVID-19 pandemic, doctors need to know if masks can be cleaned and still remain effective at blocking coronavirus particles.

Professor Wigginton (Associate Professor , Civil and Environmental Engineering), Professor Nancy and their team are putting in every effort to validate the removal of viruses from N95 Masks after disinfecting process. The goal here is to treat the masks so that they remove the viruses that are on the masks but they need to validate that somehow. Civil and Environmental Engineering Professors Nancy Love and Krista Wigginton are part of a team of U-M researchers that are engineering the recycling process of N-95 masks.

Specifically, they are concerned with the decontamination process. Researchers first deposit a surrogate virus on the mask by spraying droplets with the virus onto them. Once dry, the masks are then treated. Several different approaches are used by the team, which may be used in combination, such as the usage of hydrogen peroxide, UV(Ultra Violet) light and wet heat.

After the masks have been treated, they are compared with masks that have not been treated. So we have how many viruses were on the masks that weren’t treated and how many viruses are on the masks that are treated. And then we report that removal and call it log reduction. So how many logs of kills did we get with that treatment, said Wigginton.

Initial results have been promising. And Love and Wigginton are working rapidly to find the most effective method in hopes that they can be scaled soon to help treat thousands of masks on a daily basis. We’re really excited about how this is going to go forward, and it would not be possiblewithout the hard work of the team. And that includes professors Nancy Love and Lut Raskin, and with the students, the graduate students: Lucinda Li, Peter Arts, Nicole Rockey and Katherine Harrison. They are, as we speak, in the lab working hard to carry out these experiments (Wigginton).

Any decontamination process must not compromise the proper fit of the mask while maintaining the mask’s ability to filter out small particles like the virus.

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