An N95 particle mask. Photo: Pixabay
04 Apr 2020

Researchers may have found a way to safely reuse masks during the COVID-19 crisis

Hazardous Materials
Communication Group
COVID-19 Response

A team of researchers are claiming N95 respirator masks could be safely sterilized using common hospital equipment. According to Dr Kumar, who leads the tests, some masks could be decontaminated and reused up to ten times.

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A group of researchers say they've found a way to safely decontaminate and reuse some types of medical masks that are normally thrown away, according to an article on CBC News. 

According to Dr. Anand Kumar, a professor of medicine at the University of Manitoba, the study shows preliminary results indicating that certain types of masks could be successfully decontaminated and reused up to 10 times using sterilization techniques commonly available in hospitals.

The team has now written a paper that has been submitted to a medical site, and is waiting for peer reviewing, a process where other researchers study the result as away to move away from potential personal biases in the research.

The purpose of the study was to test if medical masks can be decontaminated without losing integrity or filtering ability. 

Two of the methods, Kumar said, made it possible  to do multiple cleanings without any loss of function in terms of filtering.

One of the methods tested uses vaporized hydrogen peroxide. This method, according to Kumar, was very effective in decontaminating all types of masks while preserving their protective abilities. However, the technology is only available in a few places in North America.

A more common method, autoclaving, which is found in nearly every hospital setting, was also very effective, he said.

Autoclaving, according to Kumar, is like a pressure cooker. Items to be sterilized are locked into a chamber, heated up and the pressure rises inside the chamber.  The machines heats the masks to about 121 C for 15 minutes, killing bacteria and viruses. "It will sterilize anything", according to Kumar. 

Kumar said he doesn´t recommend heavily soiled masks to be decontaminated. However, many masks are normally only used for a few minutes, and they are the ones that could be suitable for de-contamination.

The Manitoba research paper has not yet been published in any medical journal, and has not yet been peer reviewed in the medical community.