Exterminators say dry heat can kill bedbugs and coronavirus
Here are answers to many questions related to the “safer-at-home” phase of Colorado and Larimer County’s coronavirus response.
Northern Colorado health care providers are using technology that kills bedbugs as a tool in their fight against COVID-19.
A recent study by the National Institutes of Health found that exposing medical-grade N95 face masks to dry heat — as in 158 degrees Fahrenheit (70 degrees Celsius) for one hour — effectively decontaminates masks of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
As health care providers struggle to find enough personal protective equipment for staff members, getting multiple uses out of a single mask makes a big difference, said Yvonne Myers, health systems director at Columbine Health Systems.
Columbine has been using a portable high-heat device called the ThermalStrike Ranger to decontaminate masks at its assisted and independent living facilities for about four weeks.
Columbine went to requiring that all employees wear surgical masks before the practice was required by state officials in response to outbreaks of coronavirus in assisted living and skilled nursing facilities.
“When we looked at our PPE supply, we would have had a week’s worth if we gave every employee a mask,” Myers said. “By using the ThermalStrike, we were able to extend that time.”
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A mask good for a single day’s use can be decontaminated with high heat two times, according to NIH guidelines, extending its usability to three days.
“It was a real game changer,” Myers said. “We feel well-supplied at this time.”
Mike Lindsey of Fort Collins, a former Woodward Inc. engineer, founded ThermalStrike seven years ago. He developed the Ranger, a suitcase-sized device that can heat up cloth enough to kill bedbugs.
When he learned local medical facilities had limited supplies of masks and other PPE, he researched methods for killing coronavirus on surfaces and found the Ranger’s heat would do the job.
Masks are placed in paper boxes marked with the users’ names and stacked in the machine, which is essentially a six-side heating pad. Sensors placed on the masks indicate whether they were sufficiently heated and may be safely reused.
Lindsey worked with an epidemiologist at Associates in Family Medicine to ensure the device would meet clinical needs. Ranger units are in use across Northern Colorado and have been shipped to other states.
Lindsey said he is working with a bioengineering team at Federal Drug Administration to receive emergency use approval for the Ranger as a medical device.
“There’s no doubt the technology works,” Lindsey said. “We need to go through the process to get formal approval.”
Joel Bitler, director of clinical services for Columbine Health Systems, said Columbine and other health care providers are interested in the prospect of using high dry heat to decontaminate entire rooms of coronavirus.
The idea has been promoted by David James, owner and president of James Pest Control in Fort Collins. Devices that super-heat rooms to kill bedbugs have been used for about 15 years, James said.
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James recently contacted customers who work in the health field, including Aislinn Kottwitz, a nurse and former Fort Collins City Council member. James said he knew Kottwitz, who is a Republican candidate for Larimer County commissioner, had a connection with state officials and local health care systems.
Kottwitz enlisted the help of Rep. Hugh McKean of Loveland, who made inquiries about using dry heat as a decontaminant with the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention as well as the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
Health officials were open to the idea, McKean said. But the NIH study, which also found vaporized hydrogen peroxide and ultraviolet light could be used to decontaminate masks, proved to be a turning point.
The state health department said it would consider allowing hospitals to use dry heat to decontaminate rooms, McKean said. Putting that direction into an emergency advisement would get the ball rolling toward broader regulatory acceptance.
“This is a technology we can prove today,” he said. “And then somebody will likely get into the business from the medical supply side and would go through certification and all the things you have to do to get a medical grade device.”
A demonstration of equipment used to get rooms hot enough to kill bedbugs and the coronavirus was offered April 28 in Fort Collins in an empty store front. The event attracted representatives of local health systems.
High heat can penetrate areas such as the folds of furniture upholstery that can’t be reached by ultraviolet light or chemicals, Kottwitz said in an interview.
Being able to clear coronavirus from entire rooms and their contents could have broad implications for medical buildings, schools and emergency shelters, she said.
James said he doesn’t own the equipment needed to heat rooms, but he knows companies across the country that do. They could quickly mobilize to help hospitals, nursing homes and other facilities deal with coronavirus.
“If they could figure out how to get this decontamination method into a health care system and make it a matter of hospital policy, this could take off like gangbusters,” James said.
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