Duke Health researchers disinfect N95 masks to save supplies amid shortage

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- Duke Health researchers said have found a way to decontaminate the precious N-95 masks to help relieve shortages as North Carolina sees increased cases of COVID-19.

Scientists are using existing vaporized hydrogen peroxide methods to make sure masks can be reused. The process uses specialized equipment that permeates the layers of the mask to kill germs, including viruses, without degrading the mask material.

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"We're obviously not in the throes of what New York and Italy are doing so we're trying to get ahead of that curve," said Dr. Monte Brown, vice president for administration for the Duke University Health Care System. "We're trying to preserve every piece of equipment we can."

Dr. Brown said some of the masks, that otherwise would've been thrown out, were cleaned Thursday.

"This is a decontamination technology and method we've used for years in our biocontainment laboratory," said Scott Alderman, associate director of the Duke Regional Biocontainment Laboratory.
Duke said the decontamination process should keep a significant number of N95 masks in use at Duke University Hospital, Duke Regional and Duke Raleigh, easing some of the shortage and cutting back on the need for other alternatives using unproven techniques.

On Sunday, the big three hospitals in the Triangle area (UNC Health, Duke Health and WakeMed) announced they were in need of medical supplies amidst the COVID-19 crisis.

Dr. Brown said they have not yet seen the surge of patients that New York and California have seen but he stressed they have to be as prepared as possible.

He's tapping some of his experience from the 1989 earthquake in California. At that time, Brown was an ER doctor at the Palo Alto VA and only four months out of training.

"We never got back in the hospital so I learned how to run one when you don't have one," Dr. Brown said, adding that he's cautiously optimistic about the situation with coronavirus moving forward. "We have signs that we might out of it okay but we're not letting up. The pedal is still to the metal to get ready."

READ MORE: 'We can control the outbreak': Duke infectious disease doctor says COVID-19 situation will get worse before it gets better
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