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Henry Ford researchers develop protocol to sterilize certain masks

‘We’re hoping we can protect them the best we can,’ says researcher

DETROIT – The lack of PPE has health care workers reusing masks intended to be used just once.

A team of dermatologists at the Henry Ford Health System realized that their expertise with UV light might be helpful in easing the shortage if they could find a way to sterilize those masks.

Their research is being published in hopes of giving others a model for safely reusing certain masks.

"We came together and looked at what could we do to understand using light, specifically UVC light to allow us to repurpose personal protective equipment," said Dr. Iltefat Hamzavi, a dermatologist in the Photomedicine unit at Henry Ford Health.

Mask under light.
Mask under light. (WDIV)

Hamzavi explained what started as an idea just last Friday became a reality at warp speed thanks to a partnership with an Ohio-based company called Daavlin.

“We ended up being able to work with them to identify a specific wavelength, distance, as well as the strength of radiation to make sure that we could kill the virus. We use phototherapy equipment in our offices all the time to treat skin diseases,” said Hamzavi. “Daavlin was able to repurpose their devices, put in the UVC lamps, then we brought it to Detroit and we tested it against actual masks.”

They were able to draw on previous research.

"We were able to show that we can keep the integrity of the mask, we can kill the virus, and then the health care worker can reuse it," said Hamzavi.

There is one important caveat.

"Not all masks performed the same. You can irradiate all masks at least once, but some masks you can go seven, eight, nine times and still be ok. So you have to clear about which masks you're using and which light system you're using to irradiate the masks and clear the virus," said Hamzavi.

To be clear, it's not something you can do at home.

"You can't take a nail salon's UV lamp and use it in your house and expect to kill the virus," said Hamzavi. "There's a lot of photomedicine that's behind this."

The study is being published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology.

The researchers are sharing their initial findings and the protocol as they're developing it, along with a manual and a how-to video.

This is just a start, and they are doing additional testing, but say this is something other hospitals can start replicating tomorrow.

They hope it can help those on the frontlines.

"We're really trying to show that our nurses, our docs, our PAs, our nurse practitioners, our staff in the ICUs and the ERs that we got their back, and we have allowed the very best minds in photomedicine to create a protocol in four days that usually takes about two years to do," said Hamzavi.

Although he stresses, they would much rather healthcare workers have fresh PPE that they could use once and dispose of, that's not a reality right now.

"We're hoping we can protect them the best we can," said Hamzavi.

In addition to Dr. Hamzavi, members of the research team include Henry Lim MD, David Ozog MD, Indermeet Kohli PhD, Alexis Lyons MD, Shanthi Narla MD, Angela Torres MD, Angela Miller and Bob Golding from Daavlin.

Personal protection equipment.
Personal protection equipment. (WDIV)