Personal Protective Equipment

What Makes N95 Masks so Important Against COVID-9 – Everything you Need to Know

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What Makes N95 Masks so Important Against COVID-9 – Everything you Need to Know

What is N-95 Mask

After the coronavirus outbreak in China, face masks have become a necessity rather than an option. After months of delay and confusion, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a guideline saying, everyone should wear a mask in public settings. However, not all masks are the same. N-95 Mask is personal protective equipment used to protect you from airborne particles entering your mouth. After the coronavirus outbreak, demand for N-95 masks has gone up exponentially.

Breakdown of N-95 Mask

  • N- N represents the respiratory rating of NIOSH, which stands for ‘non-oil.’ It means you can use the N-95 mask if there are no oil particles present in the environment.
  •  95- It represents the percentage of efficiency of the mask. It means these masks are capable of preventing 95% of particles from entering your body.
  • 3 microns- Particles and droplets bigger than 0.3 microns can not pass through the mask.
  • Material- The mask is made with fine synthetic polymer fibers. These electrostatic non-woven polypropylene fibers are made with a process called melt blowing.
  • Valve- Some N-95 masks come with an additional valve. This valve is to help you breathe easier.

Surgical Mask (Face Masks) vs. N-95 Mask

A surgical mask is a loose fitted disposable mask designed to create a physical barrier between your mouth and the environment. These masks have a different thickness to prevent various types of elements from going inside your body. However, surgical masks are designed to block large-particle droplets and splashes from your face. But these masks are not qualified to block out tiny particles in the air from entering your mouth or nose. Surgical masks also don’t provide a complete seal around the mouth. On the other hand, N-95 masks are designed to fit tightly in your face and are very efficient when filtering out airborne particles.

Similarities between the surgical mask and N-95 mask

  • They are both designed to prevent contaminants from entering your body.
  • They are both tested for fluid resistance(droplets, splashes, sprays).
  • Sharing and reuse are not recommended.

Difference between the surgical mask and N-95 mask

  • A surgical mask is loose-fitting compared to the N-95 mask.
  • Surgical Masks don’t provide the wearer with any decent level of protection, whereas N-95 masks prevent 95% outside particles from entering your mouth, including large and small droplet particles.

Difference between KN95 Masks and Surgical Masks

Why N-95 Mask is Necessary

The health workers are most in need of N-95 respirator masks now. The N-95 mask fits the human face perfectly without any leakage and makes sure germs or particles are not entering from any side. For example, let’s imagine a healthcare worker treating COVID-19 patients. The patients can cough, sneeze, or sputter, which makes the germs go airborne. That is why masks are essential to protect the workers from getting infected by the virus. According to the “Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” masks are necessary for the people who are sick with COVID-19, people who are around COVID-19 patients, and the healthcare workers treating COVID-19 patients. However, due to the shortage of N-95 masks, CDC isn’t recommending it to the general public.

Is N-95 Mask Reusable?

Many organizations are promoting the reuse of N-95 masks because coronavirus loses their virality within 72 hours. However, the CDC has stated a 4 step process that should be maintained before reusing N-95 masks.

Decontamination

The conditions of reusing include:
  • The method must remove the viral loads from the mask.
  • The mask can not be soiled.
  • The fit of the mask can not be damaged.
  • The filtration capacity of the mask must be intact.

Here are some decontamination methods which are recommended by the CDC. Not every type of N-95 masks is designed equally, so one way might work for a particular kind of mask and not for another.

1. Hydrogen Peroxide Vaporization

Hydrogen Peroxide Vaporization or HVP is a process to repurpose N-95 masks with an acceptable functionality. FDA has approved the method as an emergency measure to decontaminate N-95 masks for healthcare works during the COVID-19 pandemic. This method is used for N-95 masks that do not contain cellulose, and it has already been used in industrial facilities(Battelle) and individual hospitals with the help of STERIS sterilization Systems.

2. UV Treatment

Proper UV treatment requires high precision and full illumination of the mask to eliminate the viral load effectively without mask degradation. Due to the high accuracy, home UV light is not recommended. This process of treatment is being used in some hospitals across the United States.

Best Practice to use N95 Masks

3. Moist Heat

Heating the mask at 60-70°C while keeping it in a humid environment(50-85% humidity) has proven to deactivate the viruses. This is a low-cost technique and can be easily implemented in any setting. However, excessive heating or moisture may damage the fit and the filtration of the mask. Because of the lack of data and research, this method has yet to get validation from the FDA.

4. Dry Heat

Heating the mask at a temperature of 70°C is also suggested to decontaminate the N-95 masks without losing the filter integrity. Further research is going on to determine the optimal temperature and duration of heating. The CDC does not yet recommend dry heating. https://www.sages.org/n-95-re-use-instructions/#_edn4

Difference Between KN-95 and N-95 Masks?

Due to the similar names of KN-95 & N-95 masks, it is easy to confuse between the two. N-95 is the US standard for respiratory masks, and KN-95 is the Chinese standard for respirator masks. N-95 respirator masks need to meet the requirements set by the US National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health(NIOSH). Difference between N95 and KN95 Respirator Masks Similarities:
  • Both masks are rated to prevent 95% of particles from entering your mouth or nose.
  • Both masks can capture particles up to 0.3 microns.
Differences:
  • The KN-95 masks require a mask fit test on real humans with ≤ 8% leakage to get certified. N-95 masks don’t have such a requirement to get certified.
N-95 mask has slightly less inhale and exhale resistance. That means N-95 masks are more breathable than KN-95 masks.

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Are N-95 Masks Working-What Experts Say

Are masks actually working? This is a common question many people are asking. Dr. William Schaffner, an Infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee, said if it’s a surgical mask, then the answer is “NO.” However, N-95 respirators can protect coronavirus from entering into your body. But neither FDA nor CDC is recommending N-95 masks to the public, and for good reasons. N-95 masks are challenging to put on. Health workers receive proper training on how to wear N-95 masks so that they don’t take a breath around the edge of the mask. But it makes the mask harder to breathe. Dr. William Schaffner says it is difficult to wear the N-95 mask for a long time. He had to go outside of the isolation room to take off the mask and take some deep breath before going in again. For these reasons, the CDC is not recommending N-95 masks to the general public and promoting the use of cloth masks in society.

Conclusion

Keep in mind that masks don’t make you invincible. You still need to maintain proper hygiene like washing hands, not touching the face, and social distancing. Mask will act as an extra layer of protection to you. Just make sure not to stock it up at home and keep doing all the things the CDC has recommended.

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