Government warns against the use of N-95 masks with respiratory valves

Director-General of Health Services Rajiv Garg in his letter to the Principal Secretaries of Health and Medical Education of states and union territories mentioned that it must be made clear that the use of N-95 valve respiratory masks can compromise measures that are intended to limit the coronavirus outbreak, as they do not prevent the virus from escaping from the mask. He asked those concerned to follow the use of facial / mouth covers and to avoid the misuse of N-95 masks.

This is the same mask which in March reported a 333% shot in price from 150 rupees to 500 rupees. It was being hoarded by retailers, wholesalers, and even countries like China, one of the largest producers of N-95 masks. So why is it that the government has temporarily banned the sale of this high in demand mask? To answer this question one needs to look at the basics of how it works.

How does N-95 mask work?

N-95 mask is a particulate filtering facepiece for non-oily particulates. It is certified by the United States  National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health ( NIOSH) to filter at least 95% of airborne particles. The mask is a part of personal protective equipment (PPE) and is designed to be used by health workers and certain other industries like construction.

The valved mask is made up of a fine mesh of synthetic polymer fibers, more specifically a non-woven polypropylene fabric. It consists of two valves on either side. As one breathes in, the valves close so that the air is sucked by the fine mesh of polypropylene, being filtered in the process. And as one breathes out the valves open, letting the air out freely.

Type of N-95 masks that should be avoided

Nevertheless, some form of N-95 respirators — those with a valve are not as useful as they may have been mentioned to you.

Do not use a mask with valves or openings on the front, because it could be a ‘one-way valve,’ which would only protect the person wearing it. One-way valve masks do not remove aerosols coming out of your mouth and can put those around you in danger immediately.

The purpose of an effective face mask to avoid a respiratory illness is to protect others too. A mask that protects you but endangers the people around you cannot help contain COVID 19.

An N-95 respirator with a two-way valve can filter particles out in inhalation and exhalation, however, because of their exposure to virus droplets they are most commonly used by health workers.

Which mask should you wear for protection from COVID-19?

The letter also cited the government’s April advisory of using homemade cotton masks when stepping out. The advisory states that the masks can be made out of any cotton cloth of any color, emphasizing that the home-made cotton-based masks must be cleaned and washed every day.

  • Cloth masks aren’t as high-grade as N-95, but they are enough to keep the virus off track. Furthermore, if we let everybody wear N-95 masks, the healthcare workers in need might be deprived of them. Nonetheless, if you go to a hospital for whatever cause, you can at least bring a surgical mask or N-95 masks without valves.
  • If properly used, a surgical mask can help avoid large particles from getting into the body and nose, including droplets, splatters, and sprays that can include germs, viruses, and bacteria. Surgical masks might even help minimize one’s saliva and respiratory secretions exposure to someone else. Surgical masks are not meant to be used more than once. If the mask gets dirty or soiled, or if it is difficult to breathe through the mask, the mask should be removed, discarded safely, and replaced with a new one. To discard your mask safely, place it in a plastic bag, and put it in the trash. After handling the mask, wash your hands.

Risks of prolonged use and reuse of masks

Although prolonged usage and reuse of respirators may have the possible benefit of conserving limited supplies of disposable N95 respirators, questions have been posted about such activities. A few of the devices are also not approved for reuse by the FDA. Some manufacturers’ product user guidelines suggest disposal after each use (i.e. “only for single-use”), while others allow reuse if allowed by the facility’s infection control policy. Contact transmission from the surface of the polluted masks is the most significant risk. Contact transmission takes place through direct contact with others, as well as by indirect contact through touching and contaminating areas that are then affected by others.

An effective way to avoid infection is to limit exposure to the virus. However, as a reminder, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also recommends routine preventive measures, such as washing hands and keeping at least 6 feet of social distance, to help reduce the risk of related infections.

By- Shreedhar Shukla

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