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Afr J Thorac Crit Care Med ; 27(4)2021.
Article in English | MEDLINE | ID: covidwho-1502738


SUMMARY: Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2) is transmitted mainly by aerosol in particles <10 µm that can remain suspended for hours before being inhaled. Because particulate filtering facepiece respirators ('respirators'; e.g. N95 masks) are more effective than surgical masks against bio-aerosols, many international organisations now recommend that health workers (HWs) wear a respirator when caring for individuals who may have COVID-19. In South Africa (SA), however, surgical masks are still recommended for the routine care of individuals with possible or confirmed COVID-19, with respirators reserved for so-called aerosol-generating procedures. In contrast, SA guidelines do recommend respirators for routine care of individuals with possible or confirmed tuberculosis (TB), which is also transmitted via aerosol. In health facilities in SA, distinguishing between TB and COVID-19 is challenging without examination and investigation, both of which may expose HWs to potentially infectious individuals. Symptom-based triage has limited utility in defining risk. Indeed, significant proportions of individuals with COVID-19 and/or pulmonary TB may not have symptoms and/or test negative. The prevalence of undiagnosed respiratory disease is therefore likely significant in many general clinical areas (e.g. waiting areas). Moreover, a proportion of HWs are HIV-positive and are at increased risk of severe COVID-19 and death. RECOMMENDATIONS: Sustained improvements in infection prevention and control (IPC) require reorganisation of systems to prioritise HW and patient safety. While this will take time, it is unacceptable to leave HWs exposed until such changes are made. We propose that the SA health system adopts a target of 'zero harm', aiming to eliminate transmission of respiratory pathogens to all individuals in every healthcare setting. Accordingly, we recommend: the use of respirators by all staff (clinical and non-clinical) during activities that involve contact or sharing air in indoor spaces with individuals who: (i) have not yet been clinically evaluated; or (ii) are thought or known to have TB and/or COVID-19 or other potentially harmful respiratory infections;the use of respirators that meet national and international manufacturing standards;evaluation of all respirators, at the least, by qualitative fit testing; andthe use of respirators as part of a 'package of care' in line with international IPC recommendations. We recognise that this will be challenging, not least due to global and national shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE). SA national policy around respiratory protective equipment enables a robust framework for manufacture and quality control and has been supported by local manufacturers and the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition. Respirator manufacturers should explore adaptations to improve comfort and reduce barriers to communication. Structural changes are needed urgently to improve the safety of health facilities: persistent advocacy and research around potential systems change remain essential.

S Afr Med J ; 0(0): 13162, 2020 12 09.
Article in English | MEDLINE | ID: covidwho-994170


BACKGROUND: Given the global shortage of N95 filtering facepiece respirators (FFP2 in Europe) during the COVID-19 pandemic, KN95 masks (Chinese equivalent of the N95 and FFP2) were imported and distributed in South Africa (SA). However, there are hardly any published independent safety data on KN95 masks. OBJECTIVES: To evaluate the seal, fit and filtration efficiency of several brands of KN95 masks marketed for widespread use in SA healthcare facilities, using standardised testing protocols. METHODS: The verifiability of manufacturer and technical details was first ascertained, followed by evaluation of the number of layers comprising the mask material. The testing protocol involved a directly observed positive and negative pressure user seal check, which if passed was followed by qualitative fit testing (sodium saccharin) in healthy laboratory or healthcare workers. Quantitative fit testing (3M) was used to validate the qualitative fit testing method. The filtration efficacy and integrity of the mask filter material were evaluated using a particle counter-based testing rig utilising aerosolised saline (expressed as filtration efficacy of 0.3 µm particles). Halyard FLUIDSHIELD 3 N95 and 3M 1860 N95 masks were used as controls. RESULTS: Twelve KN95 mask brands (total of 36 masks) were evaluated in 7 participants. The mask type and manufacturing details were printed on only 2/12 brands (17%) as per National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health and European Union regulatory requirements. There was considerable variability in the number of KN95 mask layers (between 3 and 6 layers in the 12 brands evaluated). The seal check pass rate was significantly lower in KN95 compared with N95 masks (1/36 (3%) v. 12/12 (100%); p<0.0001). Modification of the KN95 ear-loop tension using head straps or staples, or improving the facial seal using Micropore 3M tape, enhanced seal test performance in 15/36 KN95 masks evaluated (42%). However, none of these 15 passed downstream qualitative fit testing compared with the control N95 masks (0/15 v. 12/12; p<0.0001). Only 4/8 (50%) of the KN95 brands tested passed the minimum filtration requirements for an N95 mask (suboptimal KN95 filtration efficacy varied from 12% to 78%, compared with 56% for a surgical mask and >99% for the N95 masks at the 0.3 µm particle size). CONCLUSIONS: The KN95 masks tested failed the stipulated safety thresholds associated with protection of healthcare workers against airborne pathogens such as SARS-CoV-2. These preliminary data have implications for the regulation of masks and their distribution to healthcare workers and facilities in SA.

COVID-19 , Infectious Disease Transmission, Patient-to-Professional/prevention & control , Materials Testing/methods , N95 Respirators/standards , Occupational Exposure/prevention & control , COVID-19/epidemiology , COVID-19/prevention & control , Equipment Design/methods , Equipment Design/standards , Equipment Failure Analysis , Humans , SARS-CoV-2/isolation & purification , Safety Management/organization & administration , South Africa/epidemiology