If your facility needs to reuse N95 masks, 3M has confirmed this robot can disinfect theirs safely

by Brianna Crandall — April 22, 2020 — With the spread of the tragic COVID-19 pandemic, and the subsequent shortfall of masks, other supplies and even space due to the sudden increase in demand, many hospitals and other facilities have had to take innovative steps to keep up with their needs. When Xenex Disinfection Services heard that hospitals were using the company’s LightStrike robots to disinfect N95 masks, Xenex worked with global technology innovator 3M to confirm that the robots’ pulsed xenon ultraviolet (UV) light would not impair the functionality of the protective equipment.

Xenex has just announced that its LightStrike pulsed xenon UV light system passed 3M’s fit and filtration tests when used to decontaminate N95 respirators, even after multiple decontamination cycles, according to a 3M Technical Bulletin issued this week. The Bulletin also covered other decontamination methods tested by 3M.

Disinfection protocol for N95 masks developed by United Hospital Center, WV, using Xenex LightStrike robot

Shown: Disinfection protocol for N95 masks developed by United Hospital Center, WV, using Xenex LightStrike robot. Image courtesy Xenex

According to Xenex, there are several ways to create germicidal UV light. For decades, companies have developed technologies using mercury bulbs to create continuous, single-spectrum (253.7nm) low-intensity UV light. Xenex developed a way to use a xenon lamp to generate bursts of high-intensity, broad-spectrum (200-280nm) UV light. The intense germicidal UV light produced by Xenex LightStrike Germ-Zapping Robots is able to deactivate viruses, bacteria and spores in a 5-minute disinfection cycle without damaging hospital materials or equipment.

A field test was conducted at Regions Hospital (which has used LightStrike disinfection robots since 2014) to evaluate decontaminating respirators in a real hospital environment, for 10 total disinfections. The respirators were exposed to LightStrike’s intense bursts of germicidal light at a close distance for 10 disinfection cycles (each cycle consisted of a 5-minute exposure on the exterior and 5-minute exposure on the interior of the respirators).

Next, 3M conducted two types of tests to evaluate the fit and filtration impact of LightStrike’s pulsed xenon UV light on N95 respirators. Testing was performed on three different respirator models (1860, 8210, and 1804). 3M concluded that the LightStrike decontaminated respirators did not show degradation in filtration or fit.

Dr. Sarah Simmons, senior director of Science for Xenex, stated:

It is very unfortunate that hospitals and hospital employees are being forced to reuse respirators and other protective equipment. This is a situation that never should have happened, and we applaud 3M’s herculean efforts to provide millions of new respirators for healthcare workers. 3M moved quickly to innovate and quickly determined that our robot’s intense pulsed xenon UV light would not damage the N95 respirators. We hope that our frontline responders are soon able to access the new supplies they need and deserve, but in the meantime it’s gratifying to know that hospitals using our robots to decontaminate N95 respirators can do so without impairing the functionality of the protective equipment.

Xenex LightStrike robots have been deployed in more than 500 healthcare facilities, including the Mayo Clinic, MD Anderson, Stanford, USC and HonorHealth. The robots are designed to work quickly and do not require warm-up or cool-down time, so facilities are able to disinfect dozens of rooms per day (per robot). Hospitals have published peer-reviewed studies showing significant reductions in Clostridium difficile (C.diff), MRSA, VRE and/or Surgical Site Infection (SSI) rates after integrating Xenex’s infection prevention programs and using LightStrike robots to supplement their environmental disinfection efforts.

The portable LightStrike robot can disinfect a typical patient or procedure room in 10-15 minutes without warm-up or cool-down times. Operated by the hospital cleaning staff, it can be used in any department and in any unit within a healthcare facility, including isolation rooms, operating rooms, general patient care rooms, contact precaution areas, emergency rooms, restrooms and public spaces.

Based on the US Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) recommendations regarding the reuse of N95 respirators, some hospitals are using LightStrike robots to decontaminate N95 respirators between uses. This decontamination process is intended to reduce the viral load that may be present on the respirators, but does not meet the reprocessing standard of sterilizing the respirators. Accordingly, this method should not be used unless the respirator must be reused, and there are no other methods available to sterilize the respirators, says the company. Xenex has not sought FDA approval for use of the LightStrike robot for respirator decontamination, and does not intend to offer the LightStrike robot for this use.

Beyond healthcare facilities

With the pervasive spread of the coronavirus, facilities besides hospitals are also beginning to use the company’s technology to disinfect rooms; for one, the Westin Houston Medical Center recently became the first hotel in the US to utilize LightStrike robots to sanitize and disinfect its guest rooms and common areas to help combat the threat of COVID-19.

For more information about Xenex LightStrike Germ-Zapping Robots, visit the company’s website.