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Yale Researchers Disinfect N95 Respirators For Reuse

Courtesy of the Food and Drug Administration
An N95 respirator is a respiratory protective device designed to achieve a very close facial fit and very efficient filtration of airborne particles. The edges of the respirator are designed to form a seal around the nose and mouth.

Researchers at Yale say they have found a way to extend the life of scarce N-95 respirators for health care workers. The study comes as some nurses in New York have reportedly begun to wear bandanas as a last resort. 

Normally, Yale would wait for weeks to share the results of a study while a medical journal offered it up for peer review. But Dr. Patrick Kenney says these times are anything but normal.

“I don’t mean to say that this is the most definitive study in the area, and there’s plenty of work still to be done, but we think that this is an important step forward.”

Kenney is a surgeon who helps makes sure Yale New Haven Health has everything needed to care for patients. His team tested a way to use vaporized hydrogen peroxide to decontaminate about 80% of the hospital’s gently used N95 respirators. That way, workers wouldn’t have to throw away precious frontline protection after one day’s use. 

“What we’re trying to do is replace bandanas, or scarves. And I think this is a really reasonable option to do that, with now some scientific evidence behind it to say that it’s safe, and knowing already that the vaporized hydrogen peroxide doesn’t harm the filtration.”

Kenney says researchers used a machine that hospitals already have to decontaminate rooms. They filled a hospital room with gently used N95 masks and let the machine do its thing. They knew from older studies that the vaporized hydrogen peroxide could kill bacteria on N95s. Now, Kenney’s found the process can kill viruses, like the one that causes COVID-19, too. 

Kenney says the study is available online for hospitals to consider as they wait for shipments of personal protective equipment. 

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Cassandra Basler, a former senior editor at WSHU, came to the station by way of Columbia Journalism School in New York City. When she's not reporting on wealth and poverty, she's writing about food and family.
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