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Respirator reuse is proposed as one solution to the COVID-19 pandemic-driven potential shortage in respirator supplies. Several decontamination methods have been shown to have little impact on respirator particle penetration and can significantly reduce viral contamination. Urgent research is required to identify novel solutions to this emerging health resource crisis.
The ongoing pandemic of COVID-19 is placing increasing pressure on the health care resources of nations. Particular concern is held for supplies of P2/N95 respirators and surgical masks, personal protective equipment (PPE) designed to achieve close facial fit and protection from >95% of very small (0.3 micron) test particles. The use of these masks is recommended for routine care of patients on airborne precautions with current guidelines indicating that P2/N95 respirators are single use . Further highlighting the importance of P2/N95 masks in protecting health-care workers (HCW) during the current COVID-19 pandemic, a recent study of SARS-CoV2 infection rates amongst medical staff in Zhongnan Hospital of Wuhan University showed that no staff (0/278) that wore N95 respirators and followed frequent disinfection and handwashing became infected during the period of 2 to 22 January 2020 compared to 4.7% (10/231) of staff that did not wear masks, despite the fact that the latter group worked in lower risk areas .
In the absence of equipment to perform effective UVGI-irradiation, what other options are available? While moist heat appears to have some potential , 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 (PET) bottles at high temperatures (e.g. 40°C), be an effective solution to disinfecting P2/N95 respirators for reuse in the Australian climate ? Urgent research is needed to validate current methods and investigate novel solutions for the potential decontamination of P2/N95 respirators to support protection of HCWs and patients during the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak and in preparation for any future respiratory viral outbreaks.
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