Surgical Masks vs N95 Masks and Respirators.
It is important that employers, workers, and individuals to understand the significant differences between these two types of personal protective equipment. The decision to use either surgical masks or other protection must be based upon a hazard analysis of intended use environments and the different protective properties of each type of personal protective equipment.
The use of surgical masks or N95 respirators is one practice that may reduce the risk of infectious disease transmission between infected and noninfected persons. If used properly, surgical masks and respirators both have a role in preventing different types of exposures.
Use of Surgical Masks
Surgical masks serve as a physical barrier to protect the user from splashes of large droplets of blood, body fluids, or other contaminants.
In addition, surgical masks also protect other people against infectious material expelled by the person wearing the surgical mask. In this case, the masks trap body fluids that are coughed up and may contain bacteria or viruses.
Surgical masks are used for different purposes, including:
Placed on sick people to limit the spread of large secretions of infectious respiratory material.
Worn by healthcare providers to prevent accidental contamination of patients' wounds by saliva or coughing.
Worn by workers to protect themselves from splashes or sprays of blood or bodily fluids.
Worn to keep contaminated fingers/hands away from the mouth and nose. This may help limit transmission of certain diseases.
Surgical masks are not designed or certified to prevent the inhalation of small airborne contaminants (aerosols). These particles are not visible to the naked eye but are still be capable of causing infection or irritation to the respiratory system. Tuberculosis in the healthcare setting is a well known example and requires use of an N95 for protection. In the industrial setting, certain fumes also require the use of N95s rather than surgical masks. Surgical masks, unlike N95s, are not designed to seal tightly against the user's face. During inhalation, much of the potentially contaminated air can pass through gaps between the face and the surgical mask.
Please note that many of the non-disposable “anti-pollution” masks that are marketed today and seen on the street are of limited effect. They should not be used in a workplace or healthcare setting. There is no regulation of their design or production, and no testing of their efficacy. Studies show that over time, the cotton fibers trap particulates close to the face and become saturated. More air is then sucked around rather than through the mask. Additionally, ambient mold spores enter the mask fibers which may germinate within the mask and release allergens directly into the respiratory system. We do not sell, and do not recommend the use of these non-disposable masks in any circumstance.
Due to COVID-19 pandemic, supplies are limited and changing daily. Please forgive the temporarily limited selection. We are working with suppliers to find in stock masks from trusted manufactures.
March 19 Update: From the CDC: In light of the PPE shortage, "Based on local and regional situational analysis of PPE supplies, facemasks are an acceptable alternative when the supply chain of N95 respirators cannot meet the demand."..."When the supply chain is restored, facilities with a respiratory protection program should return to use of respirators for patients with known or suspected COVID-19."
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