During the recent outburst of the COVID-19 pandemic, face and protection masks are among the most searched and sold products. Various companies and producers offer different types of masks and often the customer does know really know which one is most suitable for protection against the virus.
What is sure is that a plain cloth masks (especially hand-made) can hardly protect you or the people around you.
Most effective are either the surgical or the respirator masks, if used and maintained properly.
To make things clearer, we offer you a short overview of the types of masks that could be a barrier to airborne infectious diseases.
N95 and Surgical Masks
Surgical masks and respirator masks serve diverse purposes, and therefore, they are designed in a different way. Surgical masks are small pieces of fabric which people use to keep the microbes away from themselves by prevent picking up other people’s viruses and bacteria.
Respirator masks are more strongly designed than surgical masks and contain a respirator that prevents smaller particles from passing to a person’s system. Some of the most common respirator masks are N-95 and N-99 masks, which stop 95 percent and 99 percent, respectively, of airborne particles from entering a person’s system.
Due to the fact that they filter out smaller particles, respirator masks also usually protect against different kinds of pathogens. On the one hand, surgical masks protect against droplet-spread infections, like influenza and other common respiratory infections. On the other hand, N-95 and N-99 masks can protect against airborne illnesses like measles, chickenpox, or tuberculosis.
Most diseases spread by droplets, meaning that a respirator mask is a better method of protection in the cases of airborne infections. When doctors aren’t confident about the way a disease spreads such as the cases of early stages of an outbreak, it is recommended to use a higher level of protection with a respirator mask.
Current surgical masks are made from paper or non-woven materials and should be thrown away after using. The design of the surgical masks depends on the type. Typically, the masks are three-ply (three layers). These masks are made up from a melt-blown material placed between non-woven fabric. The melt-blown material acts as the filter that prevents microorganisms from going in or out of the mask. Most surgical masks feature pleats or folds. It is important to note that a surgical mask is not to the same as a respirator and is not qualified as such. Surgical masks are not made to protect the wearer from inhaling airborne bacteria or virus particles and are less effective than respirators, which are specifically designed for this purpose.
KN95 and N95
With so common sounding names, it can be baffling to understand what the difference is between N95 and KN95 masks. So, what exactly are KN95 masks, and are they the same as N95 masks?
In a nutshell, KN95 masks are the Chinese standards and N95 are the US ones. These are made according to the requirements from the US National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. Despite of the long list of differences, the two masks have almost the same features for which most people care about.
The mask manufacturer 3M says that “it is reasonable to consider” _China’s KN95s “equivalent” _to US N95s. Other similar mask standards for are those of Europe (FFP2), Australia (P2), Korea (KMOEL), and Japan (DS).
Most of these differences between the masks are insignificant and would be dull to the average mask user. However, here are the key differences:
- The mask manufacturers are required to run mask fit tests on real humans with ≤ _8% leakage from the Chinese Government. However, the N95 mask standard does not require manufacturers to such fit tests.
Nevertheless, this does not mean that fit tests aren’t useful. Many workers are required to be fit-tested by Hospitals and companies. Usually, the companies themselves make these requirements and they are not for the due to the US NIOSH certification on the mask.
- Usually N95 masks have somewhat harsher requirements for pressure drop while inhaling. That means they are required to be faintly more breathable than KN95 masks.
All in all, KN95s and N95s are both estimated to capture 95% of particles, although only KN95 masks are obliged to pass fit tests. In addition, N95 masks have slightly stronger requirements for breathability.