COVID-19, News

Duke adopts decontamination technology, allowing reuse of N95 face masks in short supply

As state officials scramble to acquire more personal protective equipment for workers on the front line of treating COVID-19 patients, there is good news from Duke Health.

Researchers and clinical teams have confirmed a way to use vaporized hydrogen peroxide methods to decontaminate the masks and allow for them to be reused.

Duke Health made the announcement on Thursday. Here’s more from their release:

Photo: Duke Health

The decontamination process should keep a significant number of N95 masks in use at Duke University Hospital as well as Duke Regional and Duke Raleigh hospitals, easing some of the shortage and curbing the need for other alternatives using unproven decontamination techniques.

The use of hydrogen peroxide to decontaminate N95 masks was tested and published by others in 2016, but did not result in widespread adaptation. The earlier studies did not include fit testing after cleaning – basically sizing the masks for individual wearers – to prove efficacy in the real world, which Duke has now done.

The decontamination process requires specialized equipment that aerosolizes the hydrogen peroxide, and a closed facility where the masks can be exposed to the vapor. No toxic byproducts result, because hydrogen peroxide breaks down to water.

“The ability to reuse the crucial N95 masks will boost the hospitals’ ability to protect frontline health care workers during this time of critical shortages of N95 masks,” said Cameron Wolfe, M.D., associate professor of medicine and infectious disease specialist.

Monte Brown, M.D., vice president at Duke University Health System, said the Duke team is working to spread the word about the technique, making the protocols widely available. He said several health systems and many pharmaceutical companies already have the needed equipment, which is currently used in different ways, and could ramp up operations to come to the aid of their local hospitals.

Medical professionals stress that this will not solve the shortage of equipment we are seeing nationwide, but it will ease some of the strain on the system if a mask can be safely decontaminated and reused once or twice.

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