It's hard to downplay the importance of N95 masks for front-line medical professionals as they battle COVID-19. A new study in Manitoba--not yet peer-reviewed--provides a bit of hope in the fight. (Romero Ranoco/Reuters)

A glimmer of light in the COVID-19 darkness emerges on the Canadian Prairies

There is a sliver of light–maybe more than a sliver, maybe–emerging from the Canadian Prairies to fight the darkness that is the COVID-19 pandemic.

It involves the crucial N95 masks, that piece of equipment front-line medical personnel so desperately need and are being forced to use over and over again because the masks are so hard to come by as governments and hospitals around the world compete against each other to buy them.

The masks are designed to be thrown away after each use.

If they are not, both health professionals and the patients face very-increased health risks–to understate.

It has yet to be peer-reviewed or published in a medical journal, but on Wednesday University of Manitoba and National Microbiology Laboratory researchers released a study that suggests some masks can be decontaminated and reused up to 10 times using common sterilization techniques. (DETAILS OF THE STUDY ARE HERE.)

If confirmed, this is a very big deal. Anyone thinking otherwise these days hasn’t been listening.

Dr. Anand Kumar says the sterilization methods his team tested could help to address the global shortage of N95 masks. (John Woods/The Canadian Press)

The study was led by Dr. Anand Kumar, a professor of medicine at the University of Manitoba and a critical care physician at the Winnipeg Health Sciences Centre. 

“Medical masks are used by health-care workers, with the N95 providing the best protection against tiny aerosol particles that carry the novel coronavirus” Kumar wrote in a news release.

“At the start of the pandemic, it was clear we were going to be facing dramatically heavy demands for the N95s.

“Our team wanted to explore how different brands and models of N95s responded to standard hospital sterilization technologies in an attempt to identify safe options for their reuse in the event of supply shortages.”

The CBC’s Holly Caruk writes that researchers investigated four methods of sterilization, looking at whether they could completely eliminate the virus on the masks.

The masks were then assessed for structural and functional integrity.

There are all-out bidding wars for medical masks by hospitals and governments around the world.(Nicolas Pfosi/Reuters)

Kumar says the decontamination methods were “highly effective” in sterilizing the surfaces.

While noting that the study wasn’t done on masks worn by healthcare workers, Kumar writes, “No viable virus was found on any intentionally-contaminated mask following any of the decontamination procedures.” 

Kumar said the study’s results show the decontamination methods can be done repeatedly without changing the effectiveness of the masks,

The researchers, Caruk writes, hope to share their findings so that other jurisdictions can look at their options and keep healthcare workers safe.

Again, it should be noted that the study has not undergone peer-review or been published in a medical journal. 


With files from CBC (Holly Caruk), RCI (Levon Sevunts),University of Manitoba

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