Reusing N95 masks in coronavirus pandemic possible with this technology

Hospitals may not be able to replicate the process alone, however

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Researchers from Duke Health are spreading the word about a new way to decontaminate N-95 masks, key personal protective equipment that's been in short supply as the number of coronavirus cases confirmed in the U.S. grows.

They say that N-95 masks can be safely reused after being decontaminated with hydrogen peroxide vapor, a process that pharmaceutical companies and researchers have used on other kinds of equipment.

"We do not want our health care employees getting sick," Dr. Wayne Thomann of Duke University School of Medicine told FOX Business. "This is intended to conserve a critical resource, which is our people who support the entire health care process."

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The Duke researchers hope pharmaceutical companies can help hospitals put the decontamination technology into practice. The process takes about four to five hours and involves hanging the masks in a room to be sprayed with the aerosol.

N95 respiration masks at a laboratory of 3M in Maplewood, Minn,m that has been contracted by the U.S. government to produce extra marks in response to the coronavirus outbreak. (REUTERS/Nicholas Pfosi)

The Duke team has been answering many hospitals' questions about the process, Thomann said.

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"We’re working on this as a technology that allows us to fill the gap until the number of cases go down or production capability goes up," said Thomann, who specializes in both family medicine and occupation and environmental medicine.

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Doctors and nurses throughout the U.S. are sharing about stretching their supplies by reusing masks as they take precautions against catching or spreading the virus. Other methods of decontaminating equipment that are being tested include ultraviolet light and dry heat.

"Just finished up a busy emergency department critical care shift, and hoping I stay healthy enough to go back for another," Dr. Kelly Wong of Brown Emergency Medicine in Rhode Island wrote on Twitter last week. "This mask and these safety glasses went into a paper bag with my name on it so that I can reuse them tomorrow on shift... and maybe the next shift... and maybe the next shift #GetMePPE."

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