Some wash-out systems have been granted emergency use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to increase the number of N95 masks available to healthcare workers,media slashGear reported. The apparent shortage of these masks forces rationing, in many cases, the reuse of used masks, and the decontamination system is designed to improve the situation by killing any pathogen of the mask. Some of these systems are actually damaging masks, a new study warns.
Unlike paper masks and reusable fabric masks, N95 masks are used by health care workers in particularly dangerous procedures that gasify droplets containing viral particles and then can be inhaled by workers. These masks are essential to protect these health care workers, but there has been and is still in short supply in some places.
This shortage has led to the development of different methods of decontamination, designed to make these typical disposable masks reusable. A new study by the University of Massachusetts at Amherst found that while some of these methods do not have a negative impact on the function of masks, others may cause “substantial damage” to treated N95 masks.
As expected, damage to the mask will make it less effective, putting anyone using the mask at risk of infection. Richard Peltier, lead author of the study, explained that this puts staff in a very unfortunate position during the pandemic.
Given the global shortage of N95, clinicians face a choice: wear a used, potentially infected respirator, or wear a purified respirator, which could affect the integrity of the respirator.
The study found that the use of high concentrations of gas plasma hydrogen peroxide and ultraviolet sterilization will damage the function of these masks over time, while masks treated with vaporized hydrogen peroxide up to 10 times and short-acting gpHP for up to 5 times can filter particles at the original level. A number of other decontamination systems are also in use, but their potential damage to masks has not been studied.