Popular science: how to extend the use time and reuse of N95 masks


During the widespread outbreak of infectious respiratory diseases, the supply of N95 masks may be in short supply. In this case, we can take some measures to extend the use of masks or repeated use to alleviate the shortage, while better protecting ourselves.

First of all, whether it can be reused. The answer is yes. The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) stated that N95 masks can be reused as long as they “maintain the integrity of their structure and function, and the filter material has not been physically damaged or soiled.” The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) pointed out that a study found that masks can capture 99.8% of the virus contacted, that is, once the virus contacts the mask, even if the person then touches the mask, the virus is unlikely to fall off the mask and breathe through the mask It will not cause the virus to fall off the mask fibers. Although 99.8% is not 100%, considering that the efficiency of the mask itself in filtering air is only 95%, and the filtering effect of 95% is considered to have sufficient protection.

Secondly, answer the questions that you may be most concerned about, whether to sterilize the mask before reuse. The answer is that no disinfection is required. However, when putting on and taking off the mask, it is best to use clean hands, gloves or paper towels. This keeps the mask substantially free from contamination, because the main risk of mask contamination is hands, not air. Attempting to disinfect the mask may damage its “structural and functional integrity”, it is best not to do so.

NIOSH specially issued the “Guidelines for the Prolonged Use and Restricted Reuse of N95 Masks in the Medical Environment”. The guide itself is aimed at medical staff. The following is a selection of suggestions that the general public can use for your reference. The recommended guidelines state that extended use is better than repeated use, because it reduces contact with the mask and thus reduces the risk of contact transmission. Under the premise of observing the hand cleaning practices and putting on and taking off correctly, the following steps can be taken to extend or reuse the N95 mask to avoid contact transmission:

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1. Discard N95 masks that are contaminated with blood, respiratory tract, or nasal secretions or other body fluids.

2. After close contact with an infected person who needs to take precautions, the N95 mask should be discarded.

3. Hang the used mask in the designated storage area between uses or place it in a clean, breathable container (for example, a paper bag). To minimize potential cross-contamination, store masks separately, avoid contact with each other, and clearly identify the person who uses the mask. Storage containers should be handled or cleaned regularly.

4. Before and after touching or adjusting the mask, clean your hands with soap and water or alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

5. Avoid touching the inside of the mask. If you accidentally touch the inside of the mask, clean your hands as described above.

6. When wearing a used N95 mask and performing a user seal inspection, clean (non-sterile) gloves should be used, and after wearing and making adjustments, the gloves should be discarded.

7. Discard masks that are obviously damaged or difficult to breathe.

The guide also states that if masks are shared between users, when at least one user is contagious (symptomatic or asymptomatic), re-use of the mask may result in secondary contact. It is used by a wearer and should not be mixed when used again.

Finally, the conventional N95 is good for ordinary people, and the medical N95 is designed to protect surgeons and nurses from splashing blood.

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