We are hearing so much in the news about shortages of personal protective equipment, or PPE, for healthcare workers. Factories are being asked to perform the impossible when it comes to production be the need is so real, so immediate, and so widespread.
The problem with rapid consumption of PPE is that once it has been exposed to infection, it’s contaminated and can’t be used again. Physically it may be fine, but it retains the capability to infect other people. If there were some way it could be effectively cleaned and decontaminated for re-use, it would reduce the strain on the supply chain and result in a greater availability of PPE for all those who require it.
Hydrogen Peroxide: It’s Not Just For Rockets
Each container houses a main chamber into which the infected PPE is loaded protected by an airlock and a set of filters, and the decontamination magic happens courtesy of several hours’ exposure to hydrogen peroxide vapour. The mechanism of using hydrogen peroxide as a disinfectant is simple and well-understood, it’s a chemical that readily degrades into highly reactive hydroxyl radicals which in turn attack any organic material they encounter. This effectively neutralises any viruses or bacteria that may be present on the PPE, leaving it clean and disinfected for its next user, and with the whole cycle from start to finish including loading and unloading taking twelve hours. The particularly flexible aspect of the system comes in its shipping container home, making it very straightforward to move from place to place where it is needed using standard trucks and loading equipment.
All this is most impressive and has the potential to be a game-changer for hard-pressed hospitals in the thick of the epidemic, but it is dangerous to latch onto any one solution and long-term the best solution will still be to build up a sustained manufacturing effort all PPE that is in short supply.
[Main image source: @PaigePfleger]