Date of this Version
Journal of Engineered Fibers and Fabrics Volume 5, Issue 4 - 2010
Disposable N95 filtering facepiece respirators (FFRs) certified by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) are widely used by healthcare workers to reduce exposures to infectious biological aerosols. There is currently major concern among public health officials about a possible shortage of N95 FFRs during an influenza pandemic. Decontamination and reuse of FFRs is a possible strategy for extending FFR supplies in an emergency; however, the NIOSH respirator certification process does not currently include provisions for decontamination and reuse. Recent studies have investigated the laboratory performance (filter aerosol penetration and filter airflow resistance) and physical integrity of FFRs following one-cycle (1X) processing of various decontamination treatments. The studies found that a single application of some methods did not adversely affect laboratory performance. In the event that healthcare facilities experience dramatic shortages of FFR supplies, multiple decontamination processing may become necessary. This study investigates three-cycle (3X) processing of eight different methods: ultraviolet germicidal irradiation, ethylene oxide, hydrogen peroxide gas plasma, hydrogen peroxide vapor, microwave-oven-generated steam, bleach, liquid hydrogen peroxide, and moist heat incubation (pasteurization). A four-hour 3X submersion of FFR in deionized water was performed for comparison (control). Following 3X treatment by each decontamination and control method, FFRs were evaluated for changes in physical appearance, odor, and laboratory filtration performance. Only the hydrogen peroxide gas plasma treatment resulted in mean penetration levels > 5% for four of the six FFR models; FFRs treated by the seven other methods and the control samples had expected levels of filter aerosol penetration (< 5%) and filter airflow resistance. Physical damage varied by treatment method. Further research is still needed before any specific decontamination methods can be recommended.