(TMU) — As healthcare workers continue to cope with a tsunami of patients infected with CoViD-19, they’ve been forced to cope with critical shortages of N95 face masks that block the virus.
Some facilities like NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital are burning through no less than 40,000 N95 masks per day with the chief of surgery expecting the number to swell to 70,000 per day as the pandemic spreads, amNY reports.
But now, researchers at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, say that they have discovered a method to decontaminate the masks and reuse them, extending a crucial lifeline to frontline medical staff coping with surging cases of the novel virus.
Scientists are using specialized equipment to vaporize hydrogen peroxide, permeating the layers of the N95 masks with a cleansing aerosol that can kill germs, including viruses, without degrading the materials used in the precious masks.
So far, at least 763 cases of CoViD-19 and three deaths have been reported in North Carolina. And while the state isn’t yet facing the level of crisis experienced in flashpoints like New York City, California, or Italy, medical personnel in the Tar Heel State are hoping to get ahead of the curve.
The preservation of personal protective equipment (PPE) like N95 masks that would otherwise be disposed of will help them along in achieving that goal.
Duke Health researchers confirm a method to decontaminate & reuse scarce N95 face masks, a critical piece of personal protective equipment for front-line health teams tending patients w/ COVID-19. See more:https://t.co/mH79dJJnKZ #ppeshortage #coronavirus #covid19 #dukehealth pic.twitter.com/CHVBNjl3ZK
— Duke Health (@DukeHealth) March 26, 2020
The decontamination technology and method had long been in use by Duke Health’s biocontainment lab, but applying it to the typically-disposable N95 masks hadn’t been considered until the present crisis.
Dr. Matthew Stiegel, director of the Occupational and Environmental Safety Office, said:
“We had never considered needing it for something like face masks. But we’ve now proven that it works and will begin using the technology immediately in all three Duke Health hospitals.”
The application of hydrogen peroxide to contaminated N95 masks had been tested and published by researchers in 2016, but the process wasn’t adapted on a widespread basis. However, Duke has managed to include fit testing into the cleaning process, ensuring that the masks are cleaned for all sizes, which hadn’t previously been done.
Dr. Monte Brown, vice president for administration for the Duke University Health Care System, said that Duke plans on making the protocols for the technique known on a widespread basis throughout international healthcare systems. The equipment needed for the process is already available for many hospitals and pharmaceutical companies.
In a statement from Duke Health, Brown said:
“We could stand up in front of our staff and state with confidence that we are using a proven decontamination method.
It has been a proven method for years. While this alone will not solve the problem, if we and others can reuse masks even once or twice, that would be a huge benefit given the current shortages.”
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