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What is a respirator or a surgical mask (face mask)?

N95 respirators and surgical masks (face masks) are protective coverings used to protect the wearer from airborne particles and from liquid contaminating the face. Although they are both protective devices, they are different and perform different functions.


What is the function of surgical mask (face mask)?

The main function of a surgical mask is to prevent exhaled microorganisms from the wearer, it is called a surgical mask because it is used by healthcare professionals to protect patients.

If worn properly, a surgical mask is meant to help block large-particle droplets, splashes, sprays, or splatter that may contain germs (viruses and bacteria), keeping it from reaching your mouth and nose. Surgical masks may also help reduce exposure of your saliva and respiratory secretions to others.

Surgical masks also do not provide complete protection from germs and other contaminants because of the loose fit between the surface of the face mask and your face.


What is the function of a respirator?

The main function of a respirator is to limit the wearer’s exposure to airborne particles. It does this by covering the nose and mouth with a tight seal.


What is the difference between a respirator and a surgical (face mask)?

A surgical mask (face mask) is a loose-fitting, disposable covering that creates a physical barrier between the mouth and nose of the wearer, therefore it limits outward flow of potential contaminants from the wearer to the environment. Surgical masks also do not provide complete protection from germs and other contaminants because of the loose fit between the surface of the face mask and your face.

A respirator is a protective device designed to achieve a tight facial fit and have high efficient filtration of airborne particles. The close facial fit enhances protection. A respirator mainly protects the wearer from the environment and others.

What is a N95 respirator?

A N95 respirator is one that conforms to the US standard “Approval of Respiratory Protective Devices” (NIOSH-42CFR84). Under this standard, a N95 filter stops no less than 95% of approximately 0.5 micron sized particulate (a strand of human hair is at least 40 microns, the filter can successfully filter particulates 200 times finer than human hair). Other comparable protection levels contained in this standard are N99 and N100 that let through different percentages of equal particulate diameter. N90 and N99 filters block no less than 99% and 99.97% respectively.


Are there N95 respirators for children?

N95 respirators are not designed for children or people with facial hair. Because a proper fit cannot be achieved on children and people with facial hair, the N95 respirator may not provide full protection.


What is a medical respirator?

Also called a surgical respirator, medical respirators are used by healthcare workers during medical procedures to protect both the patient and wearer from the transfer of microorganisms, body fluids, and particulate material. Surgical respirators are tested for fluid resistance, filtration efficiency (particulate filtration efficiency and bacterial filtration efficiency), flammability and biocompatibility.


How long can I wear a respirator for?

Each manufacturer has a recommended duration for which a respirator can be worn for. However in practice this may not always be economical or feasible, especially when availability is not guaranteed. A respirator can only function properly when the filters are undamaged and the seal of the mask on the face is intact. We advise to use discretion when deciding to use the respirator for longer than the manufacturer recommended duration.


Can I reuse my respirator?

Respirators can be single-use disposable or reusable. In principle, single-use respirators should be disposed of once removed from the face, however we understand this isn’t always practical. A respirator can only function properly when the filters are undamaged and the seal of the mask on the face is intact. We advise to use discretion when deciding to reuse the respirator. CDC suggests “If a sufficient supply of respirators is not available, healthcare facilities may consider reuse as long as the device has not been obviously soiled or damaged (e.g., creased or torn).”


What is a KN95 respirator?

When properly fitted, the filtration capabilities of KN95 respirators exceed those of face masks.

A KN95 respirator is one that conforms to the Chinese standard “Respiratory Protective Equipment — Non-powered air-purifying particle respirator” (GB2626-2006). Under this standard, a KN95 filter stops no less than 95% of approximately 0.5 micron sized particulate (a strand of human hair is at least 40 microns, the filter can successfully filter particulates 200 times finer than human hair). Other protection levels contained in this standard are KN90 and KN99 that let through different percentages of equal particulate diameter. KN90 and KN99 filters block no less than 90% and 99.97% respectively.


What is a FFP2 respirator?

A FFP2 respirator is one that conforms to the European standard “Respiratory protective devices — Filtering half masks to protect against particles” (EN 149:2001+A1:2009). Under this standard, a FFP2 filter stops no less than 94% of approximately 0.5 micron sized particulate (a strand of human hair is at least 40 microns, the filter can successfully filter particulates 200 times finer than human hair). Other protection levels contained in this standard are FFP1 and FFP3 that let through different percentages of equal particulate diameter. FFP1 and FFP3 filters block no less than 90% and 99% respectively.


What is a P2 respirator?

A KN95 respirator is one that conforms to the Australian and New Zealand standard “Respiratory Protective devices” (AS/NZS 1716-2012). Under this standard, a P2 filter stops no less than 94% of 0.5 micron sized particulate (a strand of human hair is at least 40 microns, the filter can successfully filter particulates 200 times finer than human hair). Other protection levels contained in this standard are P1 and P3 that let through different percentages of equal particulate diameter. P1 and P3 filters block no less than 80% and 99.95% respectively.


Can I make my own face mask from cloth?

Cloth masks were once made from cloth, but nowadays the filter component is usually a non-woven fabric made from plastic that functions much better than weaved fabric. While a homemade cloth provides a physical barrier that can lower spread of microorganisms, they cannot adequately block transmission.


What is BFE?

A testing criterion for surgery masks: the efficiency of the filter material(s) as a barrier to bacterial penetration.

What is PFE?

A testing criterion for surgery masks: the efficiency of the filter material(s) as a barrier to particulate penetration. This only tests the filtration of the filter, not the performance of the mask in use.

What is VFE?

A testing criterion for surgery masks: the efficiency of the filter material(s) as a barrier to virus penetration. This only tests the filtration of the filter, not the performance of the mask in use.


What is aerosol filtration efficiency.

A testing criterion for respirators: the efficiency of the filter material(s) as a barrier to aerosol (NaCl, and sometimes paraffin). This only tests the filtration of the filter, not the performance of the mask in use.


Can a surgical mask protect against the Covid-19?

Because of its loose fit, the surgical mask is not designed to fully protect the wearer from airborne substances.


Can a N95 respirator protect against the Covid-19?

CDC recommends N95 respirators for protection against SARS. Since both SARS and Covid-19 are caused by coronavirus, the N95 is likely to also protect against Covid-19.

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