WHO has declared COVID-19 a pandemic and raising awareness among the people to wear a mask to reduce the spread of the virus? This article is about highlighting the various aspects of Surgical N95 and standard N95 masks and their effectiveness against the spread of COVID-19.
It will help you choose the right mask for you depending on your working condition and requirements during the pandemic.
Why Wearing Face Mask Is Necessary?
Most respiratory infections occur due to the transmission of pathogens through the mouth and nose. Although some do pass through the eyes too. In such a case an effective alternative to prevent the entry of these particles is to wear a mask. Apart from that wearing eye protective, gloves, and the use of sanitizers is equally important. The effectiveness of Surgical Face Masks as compared to standard N95 respirators in such cases is a concern for most people these days.
The National Institute of Occupational and Safety (NIOSH) has set some standards to test the effectiveness of the masks and respirators against dust particles and microbes’ uptake from the environment. They can be viruses, bacteria, and small microorganisms. NIOSH has developed nine classifications of the particle filtering respirators. The naming of these respirators depends on their ability and efficiency to filter the particles. The ability of these respirators is up to 95% to 100% and named according to their efficiency of filtering particles.
- N masks are not resistant to oil particles. The efficiency of these particles is tested using sodium chloride.
- R masks are resistant to oil particles. They are suitable for one-time usage. The efficiency of the masks is tested through di-octyl phthalate.
- P masks are oil proof. They are suitable to use for more than once. The efficiency of these masks is tested through DOP particles in the oil.
Testing standards for the efficiency of Surgical Masks and Standard N95 Respirators
BFE/VFE is bacterial filtration efficiency and viral filtration efficiency tests conducted on the face masks, surgical gowns, caps, and air filters. These tests are an essential requirement by the ASTM F2100 and EN 14683. BFE determines the efficiency of filtration by the comparison of control counts and the effluent counts. The particles are aerosolized and delivered from a distance of 1 cubic foot per minute with a mean particle size of 3.0±0.3µm. The efficiency of the masks is determined by counting the number of aerosol particles contracting the filter media of mask and without the filter media. The reported efficiency of the BFE test is >99.9%.
The VFE test also uses the same protocol as BFE except that it uses bacteriophage instead of a bacterium. The filtration efficiency recommended for the VFE test is also >99.9% with a mean particle size of filtration 3.0±0.3µm. Both surgical N95 face mask and standard N95 masks are passed through the BFE/VFE tests.
Surgical Face Mask
The surgical face masks are approved by American NIOSH standards. The triple-layered masks used inside the hospital rooms by healthcare professionals. These masks are also known as fluid resistant masks, providing a barrier to the droplets, splashes containing viruses and bacteria. They are single-use masks and should be removed immediately as they are moistened. The surgical mask is loose around the face. Due to which it provides reduced protection from the germs and particles. While discarding your mask, place it in a plastic bag, and autoclave to kill all the germs before throwing. Wash your hands thoroughly after handling the mask.
As explained above the N95 respirator under American NOISH has effective filtration, preventing the intake of microbes and dust particles are up to 95%. The N symbol denotes that it is not resistant to oil particles. This means that any microbe such as virus or bacteria immersed in an oil droplet can pass through the mask. The N95 respirator mask tightly fits around the face reducing the chances of dust particles to move into the respiratory tract.
Surgical Mask or N95 Respirator
Health care personnel handles task such as taking patients to the hospitals and shifting them around the hospital. During these procedures, the health personnel is at a high risk of contracting the disease. Most chance is due to the transmission of microbes in the form of droplets from the patients to health care personnel. The surgical N95 masks provide protection against droplets during surgeries and operations. While regular healthcare professionals should wear standard N95 masks.
Though little work has been done regarding the effectiveness of surgical mask and N95 standard masks in context to COVID-19 similar studies were conducted in the influenza case study. The data was collected from several hospitals under different control and tested conditions. The purpose of the study was to check which mask was more effective. The studies conducted suggest that while there was no significant difference in the effectiveness of standard N95 and surgical N95 masks but the N95 standard mask have little higher protection over surgical.
Whether it is a surgical mask or Standard N95 Respirator, both are;
- Tested for efficiency to filter fluids and dust particles along with microbes.
- They are for single-time use. Properly dispose of them after one use.
|Surgical Mask||N95 Respirator|
|Testing standard and approval||Approved by the US food and drug authority||Approved by the NIOSH as per the requirement of 42 CFR (84).|
|Recommended usage||Provides protection against large droplets and splashes.
Protect from the spread of microbes through patients’ cough and sneeze.
|Provides protection from inhaling small dust particles and microbes.|
|Face seal||Has loose fitting.||Fits tightly around face.|
|Filtration efficiency||It cannot filter small particles. Effective against large splashes.||Filters out 95% of airborne particles effectively from entering the mouth.
|Leakage||Loose-fitting around the corner causes leakage when a person inhales.||When properly worn, leakage is minimum.|
|Usage||It can be used only once.||It can be used only once. Discard immediately after usage.|
Though N95 respirator has advantage over Surgical masks as it stops small droplets effectively from entering the respiratory tract, the data is not sufficient to determine whether it is effective to protect health care professionals from contracting the transmissible disease or not. While COVID-19 is still present and no one knows who is the carrier around us, so it is better to wear a mask than to go outside without a mask. Though not a complete cure somehow it helps in controlling the spread of disease.