The COVID-19 Pandemic and N95 Masks: Reusability and Decontamination Methods

With the current SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, many healthcare facilities are lacking a steady supply of masks worldwide. This emergency situation warrants the taking of extraordinary measures to minimize the negative health impact from an insufficient supply of masks. The decontamination, and reuse of healthcare workers’ N95/FFP2 masks is a promising solution which needs to overcome several pitfalls to become a reality.

The overall aim of this paper by Peters, et al. (2021) is to provide a quick overview of the various methods for decontamination and the potential issues to be taken into account when deciding to reuse masks. Ultraviolet germicidal irradiation (UVGI), hydrogen peroxide, steam, ozone, ethylene oxide, dry heat and moist heat have all been methods studied in the context of the pandemic. The paper first focuses on the logistical implementation of a decontamination system in its entirety, and then aims to summarize and analyze the different available methods for decontamination.

In order to have a clear understanding of the research that has already been done, the researchers conducted a systematic literature review for the questions: what are the tested methods for decontaminating N95/FFP2 masks, and what impact do those methods have on the microbiological contamination and physical integrity of the masks? They used the results of a systematic review on the methods of microbiological decontamination of masks to make sure they covered all of the recommended methods for mask reuse. To this systematic review they added articles and studies relevant to the subject, but that were outside the limits of the systematic review. These include a number of studies that performed important fit and function tests on the masks but took their microbiological outcomes from the existing literature and were thus excluded from the systematic review, but useful for this paper. They also used additional unpublished studies and internal communication from the University of Geneva Hospitals and partner institutions.

This paper analyzes the acceptable methods for respirator decontamination and reuse, and scores them according to a number of variables that we have defined as being crucial (including cost, risk, complexity, time, etc.) to help healthcare facilities decide which method of decontamination is right for them.

Reference: Peters A, et al. The COVID-19 Pandemic and N95 Masks: Reusability and Decontamination Methods. Antimicrobial Resistance & Infection Control. Vol. 10, article number 83. 2021.

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