They were the most prized masks at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the rarest. Used mainly in hospital settings, many people acquired N95s to protect themselves from the coronavirus, not without experiencing a certain stigma, as if they were stealing some of the protective equipment from health workers.
Now that guilt could be alleviated: a new study says these highly protective masks against COVID can be recycled.
Officially called a respirator, the N95 is a respiratory protection device designed to achieve a near perfect facial fit and very efficient filtration of airborne particles.
The “N95” designation means that when carefully tested, the respirator blocks at least 95% of the very small (0.3 micron) test particles. If properly fitted, the filtration capabilities of N95 respirators exceed those of face masks.
However, even a properly fitted N95 respirator does not completely eliminate the risk of illness or death, explains the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the federal body that also regulates medical devices.
Respirators are made of enhanced nonwoven fabric with an electrostatic charge to trap particles that might otherwise penetrate its surface.
These masks fit tightly around the nose and mouth, and are intended to reduce the user’s exposure to particles smaller than 100 microns; a micron is one millionth of a meter.
The coronavirus that causes COVID-19 measures 0.12 microns.
The results of a study published in the American Journal of Infection Control (AJIC) suggest that a common type of N95 respirator can be safely reprocessed to increase supply during the ongoing pandemic and for future epidemics.
Researchers from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) reprocessed respirators using vaporized hydrogen peroxide (VHP), a standard decontamination approach, and found that the devices maintained their function and efficacy in human subjects with up to 25 cycles of reuse.
N95 respirators are commonly used in hospitals around the world to protect healthcare personnel from infectious pathogens. During the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, health facilities experienced a dramatic shortage of respirators, forcing staff to reuse them or turn to less protective alternatives (for example, common face masks).
“The findings of our study expand on previous findings that VHP is a relatively safe method of reprocessing N95 respirators and could help address shortages in future epidemics,” said Dr. Christina F. Yen of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and lead author of the research.
“It is important that we now succeed in transferring this capacity to smaller hospitals and resource-limited healthcare settings that could benefit as much, perhaps more, from this type of reprocessing of personal protective equipment in future disaster scenarios,” he added.
The team used VHP to serially decontaminate seven N95 respirators. After each cycle of VHP, they tested them in people, evaluating the respirators’ ability to contain particulates compared to the original ability.
The results show that even after 25 decontamination cycles there were no alterations in respiratory integrity or filtration efficiency among the seven N95 respirators the researchers evaluated. T
The researchers noted that successful large-scale implementation of N95 respirator reprocessing requires planning and coordination, multidisciplinary teams to ensure disinfection efficacy and end-user safety, and significant logistical support.
An example of these steps, the conclusions of the study indicate, is the coordination between different areas: infection prevention, occupational health, environmental services and other relevant functions within hospitals. This with the goals of facilitating the implementation of appropriate technologies and advocating for the inclusion of reprocessing of personal protective equipment in epidemic and pandemic planning.
The correct use of masks
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the US Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases, said in various media outlets that it is better to wear two masks, and that it is simply common sense.
“If you have a layer of protection, putting a second layer may be more effective, it’s common sense,” Fauci said.
At the end of the day, Fauci says, a mask is better than none. It is a simple public health measure that accomplishes a lot when dangerous pathogens circulate.
The masks help prevent people who have COVID-19, including those who are presymptomatic or asymptomatic, from transmitting the virus to others. They also help protect the wearer by reducing the chance that they will breathe in droplets that carry the virus.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicate that sIf you decide to use a double mask, it is essential to place them correctly, and to choose those that have a filter that allows you to breathe easily.
Vaccines and mask
Many wonder why it is necessary to continue wearing a mask once the person is vaccinated.
Experts list 4 essential reasons:
one. Vaccines, in general, offer two types of protection: they prevent the virus from infecting the body, so vaccinated people do not transmit the infection or develop symptoms (for example, measles).
The vaccines that are being used so far against the coronavirus prevent developing covid or, if the person becomes ill, not seriously. But a person can be vaccinated and carry the virus, and pass it on.
Scientists need more time to find out if they also prevent transmission.
2. Vaccines do not offer immediate protection. Vaccines require two doses, weeks apart. And then the immune system requires two more weeks to “learn” to reject the coronavirus. During this window of time the person can come into contact with the virus.
3. People with cancer, living with HIV or other conditions that compromise the immune system are more susceptible to contracting infections and developing more severe, and even fatal, forms of the disease.
Wearing masks is essential for everyone, and especially to take care of these groups.
4. The masks protect against the different coronavirus variants.
There are basically three types of masks:
- N95 respirators
- Surgical masks
- Homemade mouth covers
The main difference between medical masks and non-medical masks is the material and construction.
These masks are made for healthcare professionals. | Photo: Getty Images.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, it has been recommended that these masks be reserved for use by health professionals who have a greater exposure to the coronavirus. However, the new study may support wider use.
They are the facial coverings that are being used massively. | Photo: Getty Images.
Surgical masks are made of material similar to the N95, but may not have an electrostatic charge.
They are designed primarily to prevent the user’s saliva or mucus from reaching patients, but they sometimes have fluid resistant properties that also protect the user from splashes from patients.
These masks are originally disposable and loose fitting, and their goal is to create a physical barrier between the mouth and nose of the wearer, and potential contaminants in the immediate environment.
These are generally known as face masks, although not all face masks are regulated as surgical masks. Its edges are not designed to form a seal around the nose and mouth as is the case with the N95.
Homemade mouth covers
Millions of people around the world are making their own masks. | Photo: Getty Images.
Homemade masks made from fabrics such as knitted or woven cotton do not have this electrostatic charge from the factory; are more porous than masks made of non-woven material; and they don’t fit as well as the pros.
But when viruses are shed, they encapsulate themselves in droplets of mucus or saliva, almost Any covering on the face will trap those particles.
In an interview in The Wall Street Journal, Mike Bell, deputy editor from the Division of Healthcare Quality Promotion at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said “Normally people think they wear the mask to protect themselves.”
But the expert said that, in reality, it is about the opposite: not to spread respiratory secretions and spit in the air around you.
A cough or sneeze will release 80 to 300 micron droplets of mucus or saliva at speeds of 50 to 100 miles per hour. And even only at breathing or talking will be expelling particles.
In addition, common fabrics are more porous and have holes that, although millimetric, are not small enough to stop the virus.
Anyway, the recommendation is to use them. Protection is individual but also collective. If we are all masked, the action will cause fewer viruses flying through the air.
The CDC has a page where they explain homemade ways to make masks out of T-shirt fabrics, and bandanas (like the photo below).
A mask made from a bandana as recommended by the CDC. In the middle it has a coffee filter. | Photo: Hello Doctor
How to clean a face mask and how often?
- Bandanas, handkerchiefs, and masks made of cloth, such as cotton, can be washed in the washing machine in hot water.
- Disposable blue surgical masks are not washable, and should be thrown away when visibly dirty or damaged.
- After washing your cloth masks, tumble dry them.
- It is advisable to use a detergent or washing powder without perfume, so that it does not get impregnated in the mask.
- You can also wash your mask by hand with hot soapy water. Rub the mask in for at least 20 seconds and tumble dry.
The recyclables should not be washed, the cloth ones, if you have many, every time you use them is ideal.
In reality, people are using them more times before washing them. Therefore, it depends on how you protect it: always place them in the same place in the house, for example on a shelf near the door of the house, so that you not only always know where they are, but also that they do not come into contact with other surfaces. . Also so that each member of the household uses the same mask and not that of another family member.
Always store sanitized masks in a clean place when you are not wearing them.
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