High-quality surgical masks require nonwoven fabric that appears to be in short supply at world-wide level. Reusing masks is typically a big no-no due to obvious reasons. Autoclaving them or chemicals are not an option either as they would damage the fabric. However, what about reusing the (somewhat) extensive food irradiation facilities to reuse masks faster? Viruses are notoriously resistant to the usual kGy doses used for food, but my (uneducated) guess is that it's a matter of dosage, RNA is a complex fragile molecule. Is there any blocking element that would prevent mask reuse after suitable irradiation?

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    UltraViolet radiation? Commented Mar 22, 2020 at 11:11
  • Not UV radiation, I am referring to Gamma, electron beam or X-Ray radiation. I have added a link to clarify the question. Commented Mar 22, 2020 at 11:17
  • Not directly related, but if the pathogen is known, and data about its viability on surfaces is available (e.g. as for SARS-CoV-2), wouldn't just waiting e.g. 10days + making the environment around used masks unfavorable to the pathogen (UV, humidity, temperature) make them reusable?
    – P Marecki
    Commented Mar 22, 2020 at 14:04
  • There are other pathogens that can survive weeks or months. Mask reuse is big no-no due to those other pathogens as well, not just Covid-19. Commented Mar 22, 2020 at 14:25

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There's a new study published looking at gamma irradiation to see if it could sterilize N95 masks (not surgical masks).

What was found was that although the FIT test after irradiation was intact, the filtering ability of the mask dropped its filtering ability by 60%.

“The sterilized masks lost two-thirds of their filtering efficiency, essentially turning N95 into N30 masks,” says Cramer. But why the deterioration?

“Our hypothesis is that ionizing radiation of whatever kind likely decharges the electrostatic filtration of the mask,” says Gupta. “The mechanical filtration of gauze can trap some particles, but radiation interferes with the electrostatic filter’s ability to repel or capture particles of 0.3 microns.”


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