The novel coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) has proven to be highly infectious, putting health care professionals around the world at increased risk. Furthermore, there are widespread shortages of necessary personal protective equipment (PPE) for these individuals. Filtering facepiece respirators, such as the N95 respirator, intended for single use, can be reused in times of need. We explore the evidence for decontamination or sterilization of N95 respirators for health care systems seeking to conserve PPE while maintaining the health of their workforce.
The filtration properties and fit of N95 respirators must be preserved to function adequately over multiple uses. Studies have shown that chemical sterilization using soap and water, alcohols, and bleach render the respirator nonfunctional. Decontamination with microwave heat and high dry heat also result in degradation of respirator material. UV light, steam, low-dry heat, and commercial sterilization methods with ethylene oxide or vaporized hydrogen peroxide appear to be viable options for successful decontamination. Furthermore, since the surface viability of the novel coronavirus is presumed to be 72 hours, rotating N95 respirator use and allowing time decontamination of the respirators is also a reasonable option. We describe a protocol and best practice recommendations for redoffing decontaminated N95 and rotating N95 respirator use.
Conclusions and Relevance
COVID-19 presents a high risk for health care professionals, particularly otolaryngologists, owing to the nature of viral transmission, including possible airborne transmission and high viral load in the upper respiratory tract. Proper PPE is effective when used correctly, but in times of scarce resources, institutions may turn to alternative methods of preserving and reusing filtering facepiece respirators. Based on studies conducted on the decontamination of N95 respirators after prior outbreaks, there are several options for institutions to consider for both immediate and large-scale implementation.