According to a new study, some types of N95 respirators could be safely reprocessed in order to bolster supply during future epidemics.
Researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) reprocessed respirators using vaporised hydrogen peroxide (VHP), a standard decontamination approach, and found that the devices maintained their function and effectiveness on human subjects with up to 25 cycles of re-use.
Using such techniques could help cut down on the vast amount of Covid-19 related plastic waste that has been leaking into the world’s oceans.
N95 respirators are commonly used in hospitals worldwide to protect healthcare personnel from infectious pathogens.
During the pandemic, healthcare facilities experienced shortages of respirators, forcing personnel to reuse them or resort to less protective alternatives like face masks.
“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,” said Christina F Yen, the paper’s lead author.
“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.”
VHP was used to repeatedly decontaminate seven N95 respirators. After each VHP cycle, they conducted a series of tests to evaluate both the function and effectiveness of the respirators on human subjects as compared to baseline.
These tests comprised a user seal check, a respirator fit testing, and filtration efficiency testing, which assesses the ability of the respirator to filter out particles.
The results showed that even after 25 decontamination cycles there were no alterations to respiratory integrity or filtration efficiency among the seven N95 respirators the researchers evaluated.
But the researchers said that while the results were promising, large-scale implementation of N95 respirator reprocessing requires planning and coordination, multidisciplinary teams to ensure disinfection efficacy and end-user safety, and significant logistical support.
“In order for reprocessing to be a realistic option for healthcare facilities, certain steps need to be taken,” Yen said.
Examples of these steps include creating relationships between infection prevention, occupational health, environmental services, and other relevant functions within hospitals to facilitate implementation of appropriate technologies and advocating for the inclusion of personal protective equipment reprocessing in epidemic and pandemic planning.