Considerations for recommending extended use and limited reuse of filtering facepiece respirators in health care settings

J Occup Environ Hyg. 2014;11(8):D115-28. doi: 10.1080/15459624.2014.902954.


Public health organizations, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), are increasingly recommending the use of N95 filtering facepiece respirators (FFRs) in health care settings. For infection control purposes, the usual practice is to discard FFRs after close contact with a patient ("single use"). However, in some situations, such as during contact with tuberculosis patients, limited FFR reuse (i.e., repeated donning and doffing of the same FFR by the same person) is practiced. A related practice, extended use, involves wearing the same FFR for multiple patient encounters without doffing. Extended use and limited FFR reuse have been recommended during infectious disease outbreaks and pandemics to conserve FFR supplies. This commentary examines CDC recommendations related to FFR extended use and limited reuse and analyzes available data from the literature to provide a relative estimate of the risks of these practices compared to single use. Analysis of the available data and the use of disease transmission models indicate that decisions regarding whether FFR extended use or reuse should be recommended should continue to be pathogen- and event-specific. Factors to be included in developing the recommendations are the potential for the pathogen to spread via contact transmission, the potential that the event could result in or is currently causing a FFR shortage, the protection provided by FFR use, human factors, potential for self-inoculation, the potential for secondary exposures, and government policies and regulations. While recent findings largely support the previous recommendations for extended use and limited reuse in certain situations, some new cautions and limitations should be considered before issuing recommendations in the future. In general, extended use of FFRs is preferred over limited FFR reuse. Limited FFR reuse would allow the user a brief respite from extended wear times, but increases the risk of self-inoculation and preliminary data from one study suggest that some FFR models may begin to lose effectiveness after multiple donnings.

MeSH terms

  • Disease Outbreaks
  • Equipment Reuse
  • Filtration / instrumentation
  • Health Personnel
  • Humans
  • Infection Control / standards*
  • Occupational Exposure / prevention & control*
  • Respiratory Protective Devices*
  • United States