Antimicrobial Resistance and Infection Control | 2021
The COVID-19 pandemic and N95 masks: reusability and decontamination methods
Background With the current SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, many healthcare facilities are lacking a steady supply of masks worldwide. This emergency situation warrants the taking of extraordinary measures to minimize the negative health impact from an insufficient supply of masks. The decontamination, and reuse of healthcare workers’ N95/FFP2 masks is a promising solution which needs to overcome several pitfalls to become a reality. Aim The overall aim of this article is to provide the reader with a quick overview of the various methods for decontamination and the potential issues to be taken into account when deciding to reuse masks. Ultraviolet germicidal irradiation (UVGI), hydrogen peroxide, steam, ozone, ethylene oxide, dry heat and moist heat have all been methods studied in the context of the pandemic. The article first focuses on the logistical implementation of a decontamination system in its entirety, and then aims to summarize and analyze the different available methods for decontamination. Methods In order to have a clear understanding of the research that has already been done, we conducted a systematic literature review for the questions: what are the tested methods for decontaminating N95/FFP2 masks, and what impact do those methods have on the microbiological contamination and physical integrity of the masks? We used the results of a systematic review on the methods of microbiological decontamination of masks to make sure we covered all of the recommended methods for mask reuse. To this systematic review we added articles and studies relevant to the subject, but that were outside the limits of the systematic review. These include a number of studies that performed important fit and function tests on the masks but took their microbiological outcomes from the existing literature and were thus excluded from the systematic review, but useful for this paper. We also used additional unpublished studies and internal communication from the University of Geneva Hospitals and partner institutions. Results This paper analyzes the acceptable methods for respirator decontamination and reuse, and scores them according to a number of variables that we have defined as being crucial (including cost, risk, complexity, time, etc.) to help healthcare facilities decide which method of decontamination is right for them. Conclusion We provide a resource for healthcare institutions looking at making informed decisions about respirator decontamination. This informed decision making will help to improve infection prevention and control measures, and protect healthcare workers during this crucial time. The overall take home message is that institutions should not reuse respirators unless they have to. In the case of an emergency situation, there are some safe ways to decontaminate them.