Masks and infection control
There are two types of masks used in the medical field. One is the surgical mask – also called dental, medical, or procedure mask – which is used during surgical operations, medical or nursing procedures to catch bacteria from liquid and aerosol droplets from the wearer’s nose and mouth.
These loose-fitting masks are composed of mats of non-woven materials like wool felt, fiberglass paper, or polypropylene. The filters allow the user to breathe and are not clogged by particles that adhere to the fibers.
How should the mask be worn? It should fit snugly over the face, covering the nose, mouth, and chin. The colored portion faces outwards with the metallic stripe uppermost. The strings or elastic bands should be positioned properly to keep the mask in place. They should be discarded after each use. These are not designed to protect the wearer from viruses and other germs.
Another type of mask is a respirator called the N95, which is designed to reduce the wearer’s exposure to certain airborne particles. It is designed to ensure that all air is drawn throughout the filter. If properly fitted, N95 can block at least 95 percent of very small (0.3 micron) particles like dust and microbes. It is not designed for children or people with facial hair since they cannot achieve proper fit. A user should read carefully the manufacturer’s instructions on the use, proper fit, cleaning, maintenance, care, and limitations of the respirator.
Industrial type N95 masks may be used within their design specifications for eight hours with intermittent reuse or continuous use. Some N95 respirators have been cleared for use by the general public in healthcare settings. These are single use disposable respirators. If not used properly, it does not fit correctly, and if it is not kept clean, a respirator can itself cause hazard, can be contaminated, and can be the source of infection.
Patients with long-standing heart, lung, and other medical conditions that make breathing difficult should consult their doctor before wearing one because an N95 mask can make breathing more difficult.
Used surgical and N95 masks should be disposed of properly after use. Wash hands thoroughly after handling masks since these have trapped aerosol and liquid droplets from the wearer.
Panic and unnecessary use of masks and respirators will only deplete supplies. These are mainly used as part of personal protective equipment (PPE) among health personnel and other personnel and in situations where PPE are badly needed, masks and respirators may not be available.
Medical questions and concerns may be emailed to [email protected] or [email protected].