“Face mask – a protective mask covering the nose and mouth”
What are facemasks?
Facemasks have been used as cultural objects throughout the world in all periods since the Stone Age, and have been as varied in appearance as in their use and symbolism. Masks for protection from disease also have been used for millennia, and include the measles masks worn by Chinese children, and the cholera masks worn by the Chinese and Burmese during epidemics. In the 17th century, plague doctors adopted a costume that included a leather headdress with a long, pointed beak, filled with perfumes that masked bad odors, and were believed to combat contagion carried by bad air. In 1905, Doctor Alice Hamilton in Chicago, published an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association, reporting on experiments measuring the number of bacteria when scarlet fever patients coughed or cried. She also measured the bacteria from healthy doctors and nurses when they talked or coughed, leading her to recommend masks during surgery. During the 1918 global flu epidemic, medical personnel routinely adopted masks to protect themselves, and many cities required them in public. Since then, the use of facemasks has exploded and are part of the protective equipment of healthcare professionals around the World.
What are the different types of facemasks?
Many facemasks are disposable, tie-on, of a non-woven hypoallergenic 3-ply construction with a filter in between. Examples of these are medical procedure mask, surgical mask, dental mask, isolation mask, and layer mask. They keep large droplets of contaminants from being spread by the person wearing them; be that person is a patient or a health care worker, considering its use in hospitals. However, face masks are not designed to seal tightly against the face to prevent the inhalation of small viruses such as COVID-19. They are not made to provide respiratory protection. Some masks are “certified” for the ability to resist the contamination of both small and large particulates to pass through the mask.
The “N95 respirator mask” is a mask commonly used by healthcare providers. “N95” is a term used to describe the class of mask which use N95 filters to remove particles from the air that is breathed through them. This mask removes at least 95% of airborne particles during “worst-case” testing. Filters meeting the criteria are given a 95 rating.
The non-pollution mask is a fabric mask, which is also available in the market currently, made up of mesh and knitted fabric. These are now termed as non-pollution masks and function similar to that of a surgical mask but with an added advantage of wash ability.
How to use a mask?
Facemasks are not “respirators” and they do not provide respiratory protection. To get protection from both face masks and respirators, they need to be worn correctly and consistently while in use. You must ensure that there is no gap on either side of the mask and should be adjusted for a proper fit. Do not let the mask hang from the neck.
For respirators, a tight fit in the face should be a must for its efficient use. While removing the mask it must be taken care not to touch the potentially infected outer surface of the mask.
Disposable masks should not be reused for a prolonged period of time and are advised to change them if they look cluttered. For respirators, it is advisable to change them when they become soiled, damaged, or when breathing becomes difficult.
Used masks should be considered as potentially infectious medical waste. In the hospital setting, it should be disposed of in the identified infectious waste disposal bag/container. In community settings where medical waste management protocol cannot be practiced, it may be disposed of either by burning or deep burial.
Who to listen to?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) state that “the role of facemasks is for patient source control, to prevent contamination of the surrounding area when a person coughs or sneezes.”
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that “healthy people, including those who don’t exhibit COVID-19 symptoms, only wear masks when taking care of someone infected with the contagion.”
Can face masks help prevent the spread of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19?
In our expert opinion, face masks combined with other preventive measures, such as frequent hand-washing and social distancing, help slow the spread of the virus.
Knowledge cures – Misinformation kills.