Electric cooker an easy way to sanitize N95 masks: Study

Owners of electric multicookers may be able to add another use to its list of functions, as it can sanitize N95 respirator masks, say researchers. This could enable wearers to safely reuse limited supplies of the respirator masks originally intended to be one-time-use items.
The study published in the journal ‘Environmental Science and Technology Letters’ found 50 minutes of dry heat in an electric cooker such as a rice cooker or Instant Pot, decontaminated N95 respirator masks inside and out, while maintaining their filtration and fit.
“There are many different ways to sterilize something, but most of them will destroy the filtration or the fit of an N95 respirator,” said study researcher Vishal Verma from the University of Illinois in US.
“Any sanitation method would need to decontaminate all surfaces of the respirator, but equally important is maintaining the filtration efficacy and the fit of the respirator to the face of the wearer. Otherwise, it will not offer the right protection,” Verma added.
The researchers hypothesised that dry heat might be a method to meet all three criteria — decontamination, filtration and fit — without requiring special preparation or leaving any chemical residue. They also wanted to find a method that would be widely accessible for people at home.
They decided to test an electric cooker, a type of device many people have in their pantries. They verified that one cooking cycle, which maintains the contents of the cooker at around 100 degree Celsius or 212 Fahrenheit for 50 minutes, decontaminated the masks, inside and out, from four different classes of the virus, including coronavirus, and did so more effectively than ultraviolet light. Then, they tested the filtration and fit.
“We built a chamber in my aerosol-testing lab specifically to look at the filtration of the N95 respirators, and measured particles going through it,” Verma said.
“The respirators maintained their filtration capacity of more than 95 per cent and kept their fit, still properly seated on the wearer’s face, even after 20 cycles of decontamination in the electric cooker,” he added.
The researchers created a video demonstrating the method. They noted that the heat must be dry heat — no water added to the cooker, the temperature should be maintained at 100 degree Celsius for 50 minutes and a small towel should cover the bottom of the cooker to keep any part of the respirator from coming into direct contact with the heating element.
The researchers see the potential for the electric- cooker method to be useful for healthcare workers and first responders, especially those in smaller clinics or hospitals that do not have access to large-scale heat sanitization equipment.
Dedicated clinics can reduce impact of flu
Opening clinics dedicated to treating influenza can limit the number of infected people and help to flatten the curve or reduce the peak prevalence rate, say researchers.
While the work focused on influenza, the findings, published in the journal PLOS One are relevant for policymakers seeking ways to reduce impacts of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. “Dedicated clinics would have less of an impact than interventions such as vaccination, but at the statewide level, we’re talking about cutting the overall number of infections by six figures,” said study author Julie Swann from the North Carolina State University in the US.
“And while our work here focused on the H1N1 strain of influenza, the findings are useful as we grapple with how best to respond to COVID-19,” Swann added.
The research team was inspired to do the study by the fact that some hospitals opened dedicated H1N1 clinics during the H1N1 influenza pandemic in 2009-2010. These clinics focused exclusively on treating patients who were exhibiting symptoms of H1N1.
There was some question at the time as to whether these clinics were a good use of limited resources.
It was also unclear as to whether the clinics may have had unintended consequences, such as spreading H1N1 to patients who showed up at the dedicated clinic with flu-like symptoms but didn’t actually have the disease.For this study, the research team used a simulation model to address questions related to the ultimate impact of dedicated clinics during an H1N1 pandemic.
The researchers found that opening dedicated clinics reduced disease spread and hospitalizations, particularly when open during the periods of peak prevalence – when most people are sick. (IANS)

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