Microwave-Generated Steam Decontamination of N95 Respirators Utilizing Universally Accessible Materials.mBio. 2020 06 25; 11(3)MBIO
The severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) pandemic has caused a severe, international shortage of N95 respirators, which are essential to protect health care providers from infection. Given the contemporary limitations of the supply chain, it is imperative to identify effective means of decontaminating, reusing, and thereby conserving N95 respirator stockpiles. To be effective, decontamination must result in sterilization of the N95 respirator without impairment of respirator filtration or user fit. Although numerous methods of N95 decontamination exist, none are universally accessible. In this work, we describe a microwave-generated steam decontamination protocol for N95 respirators for use in health care systems of all sizes, geographies, and means. Using widely available glass containers, mesh from commercial produce bags, a rubber band, and a 1,100-W commercially available microwave, we constructed an effective, standardized, and reproducible means of decontaminating N95 respirators. Employing this methodology against MS2 phage, a highly conservative surrogate for SARS-CoV-2 contamination, we report an average 6-log10 plaque-forming unit (PFU) (99.9999%) and a minimum 5-log10 PFU (99.999%) reduction after a single 3-min microwave treatment. Notably, quantified respirator fit and function were preserved, even after 20 sequential cycles of microwave steam decontamination. This method provides a valuable means of effective decontamination and reuse of N95 respirators by frontline providers facing urgent need.IMPORTANCE Due to the rapid spread of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), there is an increasing shortage of protective gear necessary to keep health care providers safe from infection. As of 9 April 2020, the CDC reported 9,282 cumulative cases of COVID-19 among U.S. health care workers (CDC COVID-19 Response Team, MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 69:477-481, 2020, https://doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm6915e6). N95 respirators are recommended by the CDC as the ideal method of protection from COVID-19. Although N95 respirators are traditionally single use, the shortages have necessitated the need for reuse. Effective methods of N95 decontamination that do not affect the fit or filtration ability of N95 respirators are essential. Numerous methods of N95 decontamination exist; however, none are universally accessible. In this study, we describe an effective, standardized, and reproducible means of decontaminating N95 respirators using widely available materials. The N95 decontamination method described in this work will provide a valuable resource for hospitals, health care centers, and outpatient practices that are experiencing increasing shortages of N95 respirators due to the COVID-19 pandemic.