VUMC adopts new method for N95 respirator sterilization

Vanderbilt University Medical Center is switching to hydrogen peroxide vapor for sterilization of the white bulbous N95 facemask-respirators used by health care workers to protect against COVID-19.

N95s are typically discarded after a single use but supply shortages have prompted hospitals around the U.S. to adopt sterilization procedures that allow reuse.

On April 10, for sterilization of N95s, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced emergency authorization for use of hydrogen peroxide vapor systems from U.S. medical equipment maker Steris Corporation. (This was one of several emergency use authorizations issued earlier this month by the FDA to support new N95 sterilization methods.)

The systems from Steris are normally used for low-temperature sterilization of heat-sensitive medical equipment, and according to the FDA they’re readily available in approximately 2,000 U.S. hospitals.

Like many hospitals, VUMC has until now been using one-hour exposure to ultraviolet light to sterilize N95s.

“Hydrogen peroxide vapor allows for 10 safe reuses, compared to three for UV light, and, unlike the UV process, we can apply the new sterilization method to N95s that have been used in rooms of patients with suspected or confirmed COVID,” said infectious diseases specialist and VUMC Chief Hospital Epidemiologist Thomas Talbot, MD, MPH.