To the Editor: The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID‐19) pandemic is placing increasing pressure on the health care resources of nations. Particular concern is held for supplies of N95 (or P2) masks and surgical masks — personal protective equipment designed to achieve close facial fit and protection from more than 95% of 0.3 μm test particles. These masks are recommended for routine care of patients on airborne precautions, with current guidelines indicating that N95 masks are single use.1 Further highlighting the importance of N95 masks in protecting health care workers during the COVID‐19 pandemic, a recent study of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS‐CoV2) infection rates among medical staff in Zhongnan Hospital of Wuhan University showed that none of the staff (0/278) who wore N95 masks and followed frequent disinfection and handwashing became infected during the period of 2–22 January 2020 compared with 4.7% (10/231) of staff who did not wear masks, despite the fact that the latter group worked in lower risk areas.2
In the absence of equipment to perform effective UVGI‐irradiation, what other options are available? While steam appears to have some potential,10 it is safe to say that the answer is currently unclear and may need novel solutions. For example, could solar disinfection — a method that has been shown to be effective for decontaminating RNA virus‐contaminated water in polyethylene terephthalate bottles at high temperatures (eg, 40°C) — be an effective solution to disinfecting N95 masks for reuse in the Australian climate?11 Urgent research is needed to validate current methods and investigate novel solutions for the potential decontamination of N95 masks to protect health care workers and patients. Quality assurance systems to evaluate the performance of a decontaminated mask are an obvious concern. In terms of the efficiency of biological decontamination, available data show that indicator organisms such as Bacillus spores12 or influenza virus substitutes (eg, MS2 bacteriophage13) can be indicators of disinfection. Measuring filter performance, particular particle penetration is less straightforward and may require specialised equipment. In these circumstances, ensuring that published protocols are used only on the N95 masks they have been evaluated on may be important, given that different N95 masks are affected differently by the same decontamination method.8
Furthermore, avoiding the unnecessary use of N95 masks when the use of surgical masks is recommended and improving the potential for local production and sourcing of personal protective equipment will also assist in reducing Australia's reliance on dwindling international stockpiles during the COVID‐19 pandemic and in preparation for any future respiratory viral infection outbreaks.
- 1. National Health and Medical Research Council. Australian guidelines for the prevention and control of infection in healthcare (2019). Canberra: NHMRC, 2019. https://nhmrc.govcms.gov.au/about-us/publications/australian-guidelines-prevention-and-control-infection-healthcare-2019 (viewed June 2020).
- 2. Wang X, Pan Z, Cheng Z. Association between 2019‐nCoV transmission and N95 respirator use. J Hosp Infect 2020; 105: 104–105.
- 3. Fisher EM, Shaffer RE. Considerations for recommending extended use and limited reuse of filtering facepiece respirators in health care settings. J Occup Environ Hyg 2014; 11: D115–D128.
- 4. Beckman S, Materna B, Goldmacher S, et al. Evaluation of respiratory protection programs and practices in California hospitals during the 2009–2010 H1N1 influenza pandemic. Am J Infect Control 2013; 41: 1024–1031.
- 5. Mills D, Harnish DA, Lawrence C, et al. Ultraviolet germicidal irradiation of influenza‐contaminated N95 filtering facepiece respirators. Am J Infect Control 2018; 46: e49–e55.
- 6. Lindsley WG, Martin SB, Thewlis RE, et al. Effects of ultraviolet germicidal irradiation (UVGI) on N95 respirator filtration performance and structural integrity. J Occup Environ Hyg 2015; 12: 509–517.
- 7. Lin TH, Chen CC, Huang SH, et al. Filter quality of electret masks in filtering 14.6–594 nm aerosol particles: effects of five decontamination methods. PLoS One 2017; 12: e0186217.
- 8. Viscusi DJ, Bergman MS, Eimer BC, Shaffer RE. Evaluation of five decontamination methods for filtering facepiece respirators. Ann Occup Hyg 2009; 53: 815–827.
- 9. Viscusi DJ, Bergman MS, Novak DA, et al. Impact of three biological decontamination methods on filtering facepiece respirator fit, odor, comfort, and donning ease. J Occup Environ Hyg 2011; 8: 426–436.
- 10. Lore MB, Heimbuch BK, Brown TL, et al. Effectiveness of three decontamination treatments against influenza virus applied to filtering facepiece respirators. Ann Occup Hyg 2012; 56: 92–101.
- 11. Carratalà A, Dionisio Calado A, Mattle MJ, et al. Solar disinfection of viruses in polyethylene terephthalate bottles. Appl Environ Microbiol 2016; 82: 279–288.
- 12. Lin TH, Tang FC, Hung PC, et al. Relative survival of Bacillus subtilis spores loaded on filtering facepiece respirators after five decontamination methods. Indoor Air 2018; 28: 754–762.
- 13. Coulliette AD, Perry KA, Fisher EM, et al. MS2 coliphage as a surrogate for 2009 pandemic influenza A (H1N1) virus (pH1N1) in surface survival studies on N95 filtering facepiece respirators. J Int Soc Respir Prot 2014; 21: 14–22.
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