Can a face mask protect me from coronavirus?

Which Masks Actually Protect Against Coronavirus?

The world is facing a shortage of masks and other protective equipment against the new coronavirus, the head of the World Health Organization warned on Friday, February 7th. Surgical masks are especially in demand. But are they really effective? What kind of masks actually protect against Covid-19? Read this article to find out.

Since the outbreak, people in China and in the rest of the world have rushed to their local pharmacies to get surgical masks. But there are different types of masks on the market, and not all of them are really effective against this virus. So, which masks actually offer protection? 

Surgical Masks vs. Respirators

There are two different types of masks: surgical masks and respirators.

 

          >>> A surgical mask is a disposable medical device that can be bought in pharmacy and that protects against infectious agents transmitted by “droplets.” These droplets can be droplets of saliva or secretions from the upper respiratory tract when the wearer exhales.If worn by the caregiver, the surgical mask protects the patient and his or her environment (air, surfaces, equipment, surgical site). If worn by a contagious patient, it prevents the patient from contaminating his or her surroundings and environment. These masks should not be worn for more than 3 to 8 hours.

 A surgical mask can also protect the wearer from the risk of splashes of biological fluids. In this case, the surgical mask must have a waterproof layer. It can also be equipped with a visor to protect the eyes.

But a surgical mask does not protect against “airborne” infectious agents so it will not prevent the wearer from being potentially contaminated by a virus such as the coronavirus.

 

 >>> A respirator is personal protective equipment that prevents the wearer from inhaling aerosols (dust, smoke, mist) as well as vapors or gases (disinfectants, anesthetic gases) that are health hazards. Unavailable in pharmacy, it protects the wearer from airborne infectious agents i.e. against contamination by a virus such as coronavirus, SARS, H1N1, etc.

Respirators are divided into two categories: insulating and filtering. Filtering respirators consist of a facepiece and a filtering device. Sometimes the filter element is integrated into the facepiece. Depending on the type of filter, the mask will either be effective only against particles, only against certain gases and vapors, or against particles, gases and vapors.

 

Filtering respirators can sometimes also be equipped with an exhalation valve to improve user comfort. The valve prevents condensation inside the mask, misting on the glasses and helps the user breathe in and out easily.

It should be noted that respirators also protect those who wear them from inhaling “droplets” of infectious agents. Respirators can be disposable or reusable. In the second case, it is possible to replace the filter when it is full.

How to Properly use a mask

  • Masks are effective only when used in combination with frequent hand-cleaning with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water.
  • Cover mouth and nose with mask and make sure there are no gaps between your face and the mask.
  • Avoid touching the mask while using it; if you do, clean your hands with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water.
  • Replace the mask with a new one as soon as it is damp and do not re-use single-use masks.
  • To remove the mask: remove it from behind (do not touch the front of mask); clean hands with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water.
  • Do not touch your eyes,nose and mouth with dirty, unwashed hands.
                                                                                                                                                  Credit: Celia Sampol