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Keeping the frontline workers safe

DW Weekly talks with Iltefat Hamzavi, MD, a dermatologist at Henry Ford Health System, about his discovery of a new way of sanitizing personal protective equipment to help keep COVID-19 frontline providers safe.

DW Weekly: What motivated you to try to find a solution to the personal protective equipment (PPE) shortage?

Dr. Hamzavi: At Henry Ford we have a very highly regarded photomedicine unit, and when the pandemic started, we wanted to see what we could do to help. My sister-in-law had to intubate someone without a N95 mask, and at that point they were rationing PPE in major cities with developing outbreaks.

DW Weekly: How does the sanitation process work?

Dr. Hamzavi: We’ve known for decades that UVC light is a well-known germicidal wavelength and can inhibit the growth of certain bacteria and viruses. We reached out to a phototherapy technology manufacturer to develop a prototype, and because dermatologists know how to dose light very well, we were able to figure out how to produce the appropriate amount of light so that the entire mask could be irradiated with UVC, because just knowing UVC kills a virus isn’t enough.

DW Weekly: How have you collaborated with frontline health care workers to implement this new process?

Dr. Hamzavi: We worked with infection control at Henry Ford with a phototherapy technology manufacturer, Daavlin, to do what is called a fit test to confirm that the masks weren’t breaking down or being degraded by the UVC light. We did as many tests as we could on different models to figure out what types of masks were okay to radiate, what the proper dose was, and then worked with infection control to develop a process so that people can drop off their dirty masks, have them decontaminated, and return them in cleaner form..

DW Weekly: What has the impact of this new sanitation method been so far?

Dr. Hamzavi: As of right now, we’ve decontaminated over 1,400 masks. The device has been deployed to three hospitals in our system, and in about 15 throughout the country. We’ve also been working with the FDA to establish standards on what exact dose of light is needed and have been seeking approval for our device. We’re going to rapidly work on the science until we get it right, but right now we’ve got something that’s better than using a bandana or a contaminated mask.

Want to read more? Stay tuned for the September issue of DW for more stories from dermatologists on the front lines of COVID-19.