Hydrogen Peroxide Vapor sterilization of N95 respirators for reuse
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Abstract Reprocessing of used N95 respirators may ameliorate supply chain constraints during the COVID-19 pandemic and provide a higher filtration crisis alternative. The FDA Medical Countermeasures Initiative previously funded a study of HP vapor decontamination of respirators using a Clarus C system (Bioquell, Horsham, PA) which normally is used to fumigate hospital rooms. The process preserved respirator function, but it is unknown if HP vapor would be virucidal since respirators have porous fabric that may harbor virus.
We evaluated the virucidal activity of HP vapor using a BQ-50 system (Bioquell, Horsham, PA) after inoculating 3M 1870 N95 respirators (3M, St. Paul, MN) with 3 aerosolized bacteriophage that are a reasonable proxy for SARS-CoV-2. Inoculation resulted in contamination of the respirator with 9.87e4 plaque forming units (PFU) of phage phi-6, 4.17e7 PFU of phage T7 and 1.35e7 PFU of phage T1.
Respirators were reprocessed with BQ-50 with a long aeration phase to reduce HP vapors. Virucidal activity was measured by a standard plaquing assay prior to and after sterilization. A single HP vapor cycle resulted in complete eradication of phage from masks (limit of detection 10 PFU, lower than the infectious dose of the majority of respiratory viral pathogens). After 5 cycles, the respirators appeared similar to new with no deformity.
Use of a Bioquell machine can be scaled to permit simultaneous sterilization of a large number of used but otherwise intact respirators. HP vapor reprocessing may ease shortages and provide a higher filtration crisis alternative to non-NIOSH masks.
Competing Interest Statement
The authors have declared no competing interest.
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Paper in collection COVID-19 SARS-CoV-2 preprints from medRxiv and bioRxiv