Face masks to combat covid-19?

In case you were wondering, Nina & Nana are observing strict social distancing following the Covid scare/outbreak and have taken it a tad further than the rest of us, observing online distancing as well, to avoid the misinformation floating out there on the outbreak.

They did, however, ask me to put some real facts out there relating to the usage of face masks as protective gear against the disease.

In this era of Corona panic and fear, there are a lot of confusions and misconceptions existing in relation to the use of masks. On one hand, masks are not available for the health care providers who are in the high risk group while on other hand, those who are not at risk, spend unnecessary money and energy to procure these masks.

Below are some important facts around the usage of these masks:

Q1 … What are the common types of masks?
1. Cloth mask
2. Surgical mask

Q2… What are the Respirators?
N- 95, N- 99, N- 100 are the respirators.

Q3.. What is the difference between a mask and a respirator?
Masks have a loose fit and don’t seal nose and mouth. During respiration, the air moves along the edges of the mask, while the respirator has a tight seal and the air passes only through its material after filtration.

Q4… Are all the respirator masks are same?
No, respirators are graded according to their filtration efficiency, the used filter type, the type of materials used and additional features.

Q5… What is the efficiency grading?
Efficiency grading occurs according to the efficiency of filtration. These are usually graded as-
95, 99 and 100.
These respirator masks are capable of trapping 95%, 99% and 99.9% of particles up to the 0.3 micron size.
This grading can also be done as
P1 (FFP1) – 80%
P2 (FFP2) – 95%
P3 (FFP3) – 99.95%
based on filtration efficiency.

Q.6.. What is the meaning of N,R or P written over the respirators?
N – not oil proof
R- oil resistant
P- oil proof
(Eg. N 95 is not oil proof).

Q7. What are the valves in certain masks?
That valve is nothing but a simple exhalation port with one way valve mechanism which reduces the effort of expiration, reduces the heat inside the mask, dissipates humidity and reduces the amount of co2 from the dead space of mask.

Q.8.. When should surgical masks be used?
Ans… Surgical mask or procedure mask is the most common mask used by health workers.
It is not designed to protect wearer from inhaling the air born bacteria and viruses.
It is used to block only large particle droplets, splashes, sprays or splatter.
It also reduces the exposure of wearer’s saliva and respiratory secretions to others. Surgical masks also remind wearer not to touch their mouth/nose which could otherwise transfer virus/bacteria after having touched a contaminated surface.

Q9… What is the filtration capacity of the surgical mask?
Ans… It can vary between 10-90% according to the manufacturer.

Q..10.. How can the quality of the masks be measured?
Mask should be certified by the
NIOSH (National institute for occupational safety and health)
NPPTL (National personal protective technology laboratory)

Q.11… Is the cloth mask effective?
Cloth is a woven material due to which its pore size is bigger than surgical mask which is made up of non woven polypropylene material. Thus, the cloth mask is less effective than surgical mask in terms of filtration efficiency.

Q..12 … Does extra layers improve the efficacy of the cloth mask?
Ans.. No, it’s not advisable. Each extra layer adds only 2% of extra protection at the cost of comfort..

Q.13… Can surgical/cloth mask be used routinely?
Yes, these can be used routinely. Studies done on the general populace concluded that the use of simple mask can decrease the incidence of flu up to 75%.

Q.14.. Can mask be reused?

Surgical mask should be discarded after single use or after it’s soiled.

Respirator mask should be discarded when the resistance of breathing is increased or get soiled.
Viruses/bacteria can grow and flourish inside the reused mask.

Q..15.. What are the WHO recommendations for using masks?

  1. For the normal population, masks aren’t required. Social distancing and maintaining hand hygiene are essential.
  2. Cloth mask can be reused after washing.
  3. Sick persons should wear surgical mask.
  4. Caregivers of sick persons should also wear the surgical mask.
  5. N 95 mask should be used by the person who has the potential to get exposed with the respiratory secretions of the infected patient eg. during the Endotracheal intubation, CPR, Ventilation, Bronchoscopy and Tracheostomy etc.

Credits: Information received via Dr. Abinaya from Dr. Ravindra S. Sisodia, Anaesthesiologist.


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