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What’s the difference between surgical and respirator masks?

With the outbreak of Coronavirus, masks and other PPE are critical in helping to provide protection against the virus. At the time of writing this post, UK government guidance states that masks are not recommended for use by the general public. Certain job roles such as carers and cleaners may have an increased risk of exposure (especially in settings with sick people) and in these cases, Public Health England (PHE) may advise on the additional use of PPE to cover your face and mouth and nose, such as goggles and a suitable mask. You should contact the PHE health protection team for further guidance.

With a shortage of suitable products in the supply chain and massive increases in demand, it is incredibly difficult for end users to source face masks of any form. You will have probably seen two main types of masks talked about recently – the surgical mask and the respirator. But which one, if any should you go for if you are working in a high risk setting?

Surgical Masks

Surgine surgical face mask
  • It is a disposable medical device.
  • Generally  used in healthcare settings by surgeons and dentists to prevent them from infecting or contaminating their patient or environment but can also be worn by a contagious person to prevent them from infecting their environment.
  • The mask is not fitted to the face, so you do not require a fit test. This means however the mask is not sealed around the face area – droplets could still bypass this. The mask is fitted only by clamping the nose piece so that it fits tightly across the bridge.
  • You should select a fluid resistant (Type IIR) mask that will protect against droplets (such as saliva and phlegm). However they do not provide full protection from airborne agents such as aerosols. Therefore they will not provide full protection against viruses. However one of the main ways the virus is spread is thought to be in the air in droplets.
  • The protective effect of fluid resistant type IIR masks against respiratory viruses is well established when used in combination of other pieces of PPE such as face shields.
  • Each mask should not be worn no longer than a few hours maximum and may become very moist during wear. You should be very careful whilst removing the mask and dispose of it separately from your main waste for 72 hours (the time the virus could survive on these materials) it can then be added to your main waste. If this is not possible, it should be disposed of in clinical waste.
  • Should be of EN 14683 standard

Respirator Masks

3M 8833 FFP3 Respirator Mask
  • A respirator mask is a piece of personal protective equipment (PPE), designed to protect the wearer from external hazards.
  • Some respirator masks will protect against hazardous vapours however the type applicable to virus protection are particulate masks with a filtering face piece (FFP).
  • Respirator masks are the recommended type of mask for protection of the wearer against Corona virus, but the mask must fit correctly and be of the appropriate standard and type FFP3 (also called N99 in the US).
  • They can be disposable and reusable. Disposable masks however are more appropriate to the healthcare setting and should not be worn for more than one shift or around 8 hours. If masks are damaged, soiled or damp they should be disposed of and replaced. Reusable masks can be cleaned according to manufacturer instructions and this should include a step to inactivate any potential viral contamination. This may be able to help reduce pressure on the supply chain.
  • Currently guidance from PHE and the HSE in the UK still require masks to be fit tested to ensure an adequate seal. This means that facial hair should be removed when wearing these masks.
  • If using a valved non-shrouded mask, this should also be accompanied by face protection.
  • Guidance recommends that FFP3 masks should be used. The HSE advises that where these are not available an FFP2 or N95  mask may be a suitable alternative.
  • You should be very careful during removal of the mask and dispose of it separately from your main waste until 72 hours have elapsed (the time the virus could survive on these materials) it can then be added to your main waste. If this is not possible, it should be disposed of in clinical waste.
  • Should be of EN 149:2001 standard

Whilst stocks are incredibly limited given the current situation, Camlab are working hard to source much needed PPE items. We have collated any products we feel may be of interest onto one page which will be regularly updated as and when more stocks arrive.

You can also read our Corona Virus help page here, where we have tried to add any guides we feel are relevant to the ongoing situation.

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(Source: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/wuhan-novel-coronavirus-infection-prevention-and-control/covid-19-personal-protective-equipment-ppe)