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Can N95 Masks Protect You From Coronavirus Spread?

The spread of coronavirus has been reported in many countries since its first outbreak in the city of Wuhan (China). The virus is continuously spreading among individuals and the count of infected people till now has reached around 96000 with 3304 confirmed deaths worldwide. A few weeks before, India was safe from the spread of coronavirus with only three reported cases in Kerala who were effectively monitored. But now, the panic among people has increased with the rise in the numbers of the confirmed cases of coronavirus in India.

Everyone is looking for ways to protect themselves from the virus and prevent its spread. A specialized mask called N95 respirator is making news for all the good reasons as it is believed to protect a wearer from the infected liquid particles and airborne infectious agents entering the mouth and nose.

Before using the N95 respirator, it is important to know what is it, who can use it, how it is different from other face masks, how to wear it and if it can protect a wearer from the infection. Take a look at the details of N95 face masks.

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What Is N95 Respirator?

The N95 respirator is a type of regular face mask with thicker filters. It can be used as personal protective equipment to protect oneself from the spread of COVID-19, a type of coronavirus which has created panic across the world due to its fast contagious nature.

N95 respirators are made in such a way that it closely fits the wearer's mouth and nose. It has very efficient filters that block the entrance of infected particles, no matter they are big or very small (up to 3 microns). Many health organizations like the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulate N95 respirators for protection against coronavirus. However, these healthcare organizations don't recommend it yet for public use as wearing these masks for a long time can be challenging.

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Why N95 Is Not Yet Recommended For Public Use?

According to the CDC, every year medical experts receive retraining on how to fit N95 respirators around the nose, chin and cheeks. The retraining is given as breathing with this respirator is not an easy task. After wearing an N95 mask, the wearer should avoid breathing in and out from the edges of the respirator to protect themselves from getting infected with the virus or spreading the virus outside if they are infected.

The filter of N95 masks are made of very thick material and is hard to touch. Breathing with N95 respirator can give a feeling of suffocation to a wearer because, after some time, the area inside the mask may get moist and hot creating a claustrophobic experience to the person. Therefore, the mask can only be worn for a short duration (usually for half an hour), considering the fact that the wearer has to go to a fresh environment and take a deep breath and then wear it again.

Another risk associated with N95 face masks is that they are recommended only for healthcare workers who are dealing with coronavirus patients. If the demand for N95 mask increases for regular public use, soon it will go out of stock for people who actually need them.

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Who Can Use N95 Masks?

People who are infected with coronavirus are mainly suggested to wear N95 face masks. This is because they usually show flu-like symptoms and may infect others with the infectious fluids coming out when they cough or sneeze. So, to reduce the risk of the spread of the virus, the CDC advises to wear N95 face masks and protect others from getting infected.

Healthcare workers are another important community who are suggested to wear N95 face masks. They are at higher risk of getting infected by the virus as they deal with infected individuals regularly. Also, an N95 face mask is not suggested for children or people with facial hair as they may face some fitting issues with the mask.

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Can N95 Mask Protect You From Coronavirus?

The N95 face mask is made in such a way that it prevents the wearer from inhaling dust, mist, anaesthetic gases or smoke which are harmful or infectious for the person. According to the CDC, N95 prevent 95% of airborne infectious agents, including virus and bacteria, like in the recent case of coronavirus or H1N1. The mask protects the wearer from tiny infectious particles, gases or vapours according to the type of filter fixed in it.

In the case of coronavirus, it would not be wrong to say that an N95 mask protects the wearer from coronavirus, considering the fact that it does not provide 100% protection from the virus. This is because many times the mask does not get fit properly on the wearer's face and make them exposed to the infection. Also, in some N95 face mask models, the exhalation valves for breathing out air and reduce the heat buildup is provided. In such cases, some infectious agents may get inhaled out or in, causing the spread of the virus.

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N95 Mask Vs Surgical Mask

N95 Masks

Surgical Masks

Very close facial fit as the edges of the mask is specially designed to seal the area around the mouth and the nose. Loose fit as the edges are not intact to seal the mouth and face from the sides.
It is made of very efficient filters and is thick. It is made of single and thin filters and loosely fits on mouth and nose.
It protects the wearer from contact with infected liquids and airborne infections. They only protect the wearer from infectious agents which are spread by droplets and not airborne infections.
May cause breathing difficulties Do not cause breathing difficulties
They are unavailable in pharmacies. They are available in the pharmacies.
It is either disposable or reusable. It is disposable.
Cannot be used for a longer time Can be used for a longer time
It is safe and may prevent the wearer from coronavirus, if worn properly. It is not considered safe while dealing with coronavirus patients or when displaying coronavirus symptoms. However, they can be used as a regular mask to prevent dust.
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How To Wear An N95 Mask?

  • Clean hands with alcohol-based handwash or soaps.
  • Cover the mouth and nose with the mask making sure that the edges of the mask closely fits the area like a seal.
  • Do not touch the mask while in use.
  • If you touch it, make sure to wash hands immediately with alcohol-based handwash or soaps.
  • Once you feel the mask is causing breathing problems-leave the infected area, open it, take a deep breath and wear it again-only if the mask is reusable, otherwise, replace it with a new one.
  • Remember to open the mask from the back without touching its front.
Read more about: coronavirus n95 covid 19
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