NOT ALL MASKS ARE EQUAL
September 8 - December 31
The popularity of protective breathing masks has grown steadily since the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in 2002.1 But the use of a protective mask dates back nearly a century, to when a pandemic of influenza (1918-1920) killed up to 5% of the world’s population.
Since that time, scientists have debated whether wearing a mask can help prevent the spread of viruses.
Today, most agree that the highest-quality protective masks play a role in an infection-control strategy that includes regular hand-washing. However, the most common masks do very little.
Putting air pollution masks to the test
Testing conducted by the Southern Research Institute published in Applied Biosafety confirmed that a respirator outperforms other masks, at least against droplet-size particles.
Researchers tested three common protective masks – a surgical mask, a pre-shaped dust mask, and a common bandana – against an N95 respirator (the “95” signifies the mask theoretically filters 95% of all particles in testing). They strapped the various devices to a mannequin fitted with a special aerosol probe and measured efficiency against particles 1.0 to 2.5 microns in diameter.
The filtration efficiencies were found to be:
- Dust mask: 6.1%
- Bandana: 11.3%
- Surgical mask: 33.3%
- N95 respirator: 89.6%
The researchers suggested that the lack of an optimal fit was the reason the N95 respirator did not meet the 95% theoretical filtration efficiency.
They also concluded that the dust mask, bandana and even the surgical mask offered very little protection in comparison to the N95 respirator. In fact, they noted that “wearing these face masks may produce a false sense of protection.”