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How to sterilize N95 masks using a microwave

There is an acute shortage of N95 masks thanks to the demand in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

This sterilization method can effectively kill all viruses, including coronavirus. A single N95 mask can be sterilized using a microwave without damage, say researchers.

It is mandatory for health care workers treating COVID-19 patients to wear N95 masks to prevent themselves from contracting the disease. But with the rising number of coronavirus cases across the globe, many countries are facing a shortage of personal protective gear and N95 masks. As a result, health care centres are being compelled to reuse the N95 masks, which are supposed to be discarded once used. To make N95 masks reusable, hospitals are applying different mask sterilization techniques such as hydrogen peroxide vaporization, UV light, and heat incubation.

Now, a team of eight researchers from the American Society for Microbiology has come up with a much more accessible and affordable decontamination tool to sterilize N95 masks a microwave. The best thing about this disinfection method is that it utilizes only common household items.

The researchers believe that this easy microwave-generated steam decontamination method will especially benefit health care centers that lack the high-capacity sterilization systems of large hospitals. While the researchers conducted the study keeping health care settings in mind, they said there is no harm in trying the same method at home.

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Here's how N95 masks are sterilized using a microwave

For this new mask sterilization technique, you need water, a glass container, mesh, a rubber band, and a 1,100- or 1,150-watt microwave. Now, follow the steps as described by the researchers -

  • Fill the glass container with 60 milliliters of water
  • Then place the mesh material over the top of the container and secure it with a rubber band.
  • Now, place the N95 mask on the mesh and microwave it for 3 minutes

This can effectively kill all viruses, including coronavirus, the researchers said. It's simple but works well, added James E. Kirby, MD, from the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center of Harvard and one of the team members.

The researchers repeated the sterilization method 20 times on a single N95 mask without damage. The type of mask they used even had a metal piece on it, but that didn't cause heating or sparking during the 20 cycles of testing.

N95 masks can prevent aerosol-size droplet inhalation

Emerging evidence suggests that the novel coronavirus is airborne and can be transmitted via aerosol droplets. This further reinforces the importance of using N95 masks in public places and health care settings.

According to the authors of the new study, N95 is the only mask that can prevent aerosol-size droplet inhalation.

Even though N95 masks are every effective against the COVID-19 virus, they are mostly reserved for healthcare professionals and those who are working actively with infected people due to scarcity of the product. Considering the shortage, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does not recommend N95 masks or N95 respirators for use by the general public. The CDC guidelines identify N95 masks as critical supplies that must be reserved for health care workers and other medical first responders.

Surgical masks can help block large-particle droplets, splashes, sprays, or splatter, but they do not filter or block very small particles in the air that may be transmitted by coughs, sneezes, or certain medical procedures.

As new findings emerge about the pandemic's airborne transmission, more people are likely to turn to N95 masks.

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