The increasingly limited supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) was a dangerous aspect of the pandemic. It cost the lives of many health care workers and exposed how many governments lacked preparedness for such a crisis — despite regular warnings of a potential pandemic in recent years — and an understanding of how to respond.
N95 respirators (masks) are commonly used in hospitals. They can filter out 95 percent of very small particles and droplets, making them much more effective at protecting health care workers from pathogens than cloth face masks. However, they are usually one-use only, and due to the lack of PPE, many were forced to reuse them or use surgical or face masks.
Now, researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and the MIT have found a way to counteract PPE shortages (thinking ahead for the next pandemic and dealing with the one we're still in) by safely and effectively reprocessing N95 respirators. They found that using vaporized hydrogen peroxide (VHP) to clean these devices was extremely successful and safe.
Using VHP is a standard decontamination approach. As reported in the American Journal of Infection Control, applying this process to the N95 respirators allowed them to be cleaned while maintaining their function and effectiveness for up to 25 cycles of reuse.
“The findings from our study expand upon previous findings that VHP is a relatively safe method for reprocessing N95 respirators, and could help address shortages in future epidemics,” lead author Dr Christina F. Yen said in a statement.
“It is important that we now find ways to scale and translate this capability to smaller hospitals and resource-limited healthcare settings that could benefit just as much – perhaps more – from this type of personal protective equipment reprocessing in future disaster scenarios.”
This method not only has the ability to maintain high-quality PPE standards but also reduces waste. And it doesn’t have to rely on the serendipitous discovery of 5,000 respirator masks in the crypt of a cathedral.