Nebraska Medicine pioneering technique to re-use PPE

by Taylor Wilson, Nebraska Medicine | March 23, 2020

Image with caption: John Lowe, Ph.D., UNMC assistant vice chancellor for inter-professional health security training and education

John Lowe, Ph.D., UNMC assistant vice chancellor for inter-professional health security training and education

In light of the national shortage of one-use personal protective equipment (PPE), Nebraska Medicine has developed a safe and effective method to decontaminate these items so they can be used multiple times, instead of just once.

A team led by John Lowe, Ph.D., UNMC assistant vice chancellor for inter-professional health security training and education, developed a safe and effective method to decontaminate N95 respirators so they can be used multiple times, instead of just once. It involves using ultraviolet light towers to irradiate high numbers of N95 respirators

The strategy will allow Nebraska Medicine to greatly extend its supply of these items during the coronavirus pandemic.

"The shortage of PPE is a nationwide issue -- each and every one of these items is increasingly precious," said Mark Rupp, M.D., chief of the UNMC Division of Infectious Diseases. "Although we were well prepared, our supplies were beginning to dwindle. We had to find a way to keep our providers and patients safe, and this will definitely help us achieve that goal."

The decontamination of these items works like this: groups of N95s are safely bagged and transported to a room inside Nebraska Medical Center, which is equipped with two ultraviolet light towers. The N95 respirators are hung on wires stretching the length of the room and then decontaminated when the lights are powered on. They are then removed and returned to the original owners for reuse.

"The shortage has forced us to be innovative," said Dr. Lowe. "While these items weren't meant to be used more than once, this is a 100% safe way to extend their useful life. Other major hospital systems in the U.S. have also started to implement this method for the same reason we are."

Staff members have been provided with instructions on how to safely remove their PPE and place in bags for transport to the decontamination room.

Several community partners and concerned members of the public have offered to donate masks to Nebraska Medicine in this time of need. Nebraska Medicine leaders greatly appreciate these offers and are exploring all of them to continue to add to the medical center's stockpile of personal protective equipment.

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John McAuliffe
April 08, 2020 at 7:20 AM

Can any more details be provided on the sterilization of PPE for non-hospital personnel? Us civilians would like to re-use masks too. Thanks.

Seth
March 26, 2020 at 4:45 PM

Does UV light effect the integrity of the N95 ?

Jason MacTaggart MD
March 23, 2020 at 6:55 AM

This is a great idea, but has this been shown experimentally to be effective in inactivating the virus 100% to protect our providers? If we’ve been flying Ebola into our town and getting paid tens of millions of dollars to prepare for situations like this, how is it we don’t even have enough PPE for our providers? We have to ask questions when someone says something like this is 100% effective. Please have a follow up today article soon describing briefly how the efficacy and safety of this method has been confirmed and if the treated masks are currently being used in the Biocontainment unit. We all appreciate your honesty and willingness to incorporate creative solutions to this challenging problem. Thank you and great work!