Are counterfeit surgical masks still effective?

The coronavirus has infected more than 90 million people all over the world and there were nearly 2 million recorded deaths. The virus spreads easily like the flu and has an incubation period of 72 hours.

Because the coronavirus is spread through respiratory droplets, one of the effective ways to stay protected against the virus is to wear a mask. This is the reason why there has been a high demand for surgical masks in the medical setting because healthcare and frontline workers need to wear surgical masks, especially when caring for patients with COVID-19.

What is a surgical mask?

A surgical mask is a type of disposable face mask that is intended for medical use. The surgical mask is worn in the operating room to protect both the wearer and patient and of course to keep the operating room free from any contamination. Surgical masks are lightweight, breathable, and have waterproofing capacity. It is also the function of the surgical mask to protect the wearer against blood spatter, splashes, and aerosol sprays.

There are different brands and types of surgical masks. There are also N95 masks that are approved by the FDA to be used as surgical masks. 

Because of the coronavirus, the surgical masks and N95 masks are only intended for healthcare and frontline workers. The general public is encouraged to wear cloth masks instead.

How surgical masks are tested? 

High-quality surgical masks are tested and regulated before they are sold to be used in the medical setting. Surgical masks are tested to ensure safety in different situations. 

The following are the tests performed for surgical masks

Bacteria filtration efficiency (BFE) test 

This surgical mask test is meant to determine if the surgical mask can catch the percentage of bacteria it’s supposed to filter. This test is done by shooting an aerosol with staphylococcus aureus bacteria at the mask at 28.3 liters per minute. 

Breathing resistance test

This surgical mask test is designed to make sure that the mask holds its shape. It is also to ensure that the mask gives the wearer proper ventilation, especially for long hours. This surgical mask test is done by shooting a flow of air at it, then the air pressure on both sides of the surgical mask is measured.

Splash resistance test

The splash resistance test is conducted to ensure that liquid elements cannot penetrate and contaminate the wearer. This splash resistance test is done by splashing blood to the mask using a force similar to human blood pressure. 

Flammability test

The flammability test is conducted to determine how slowly the surgical mask catches fire and how long the material of the mask takes to burn.

Particle Filtration Efficiency test

This surgical mask test is done to ensure that the surgical masks can filter the desired size of the particles it is supposed to filter. The test is conducted by spraying an aerosol of polystyrene microspheres.

Are counterfeit surgical masks still effective?

Because of the increasing demand for surgical masks in the medical setting, a lot of counterfeit surgical masks are being sold online. They look like genuine surgical masks, but if you look at the overall quality, fake surgical masks look cheap and unreliable.

So, are counterfeit surgical masks still effective? The obvious answer is no. Counterfeit surgical masks are not as effective as the genuine, FDA-approved mask. Counterfeit masks are not tested for effectiveness, breathability, and filtering capacity. 

In order to achieve full protection from wearing a surgical mask, it is recommended to purchase surgical masks from trusted sellers and brands. 

How to check the quality of surgical masks at home

In the US, surgical masks should be FDA approved. It is important to look for FDA approval when buying surgical masks, but if you are not sure about the authenticity of your mask, you can also perform a couple of tests at home.

Water test for surgical masks

  • Hold the surgical mask by the ear straps.
  • Fill in the surgical mask with water.
  • The surgical mask is of low quality if there is leakage. The surgical mask should be waterproof to prevent the passage of any bodily fluids and contaminants.

Flame test for surgical masks

  • Get a lighter and wear the surgical mask.
  • Turn on the lighter and position it six inches away from the surgical mask on your mouth.
  • Try to put out the light by blowing it through the surgical mask.
  • The surgical mask is of low quality if the light blows off. The surgical mask should be firm but breathable.

Surgical mask ASTM level of protection

Surgical masks come in different thicknesses and levels of protection. The level of protection varies from Minimum to Level 3 classification.

As per ASTM Classification, a surgical mask is classified into the following:

  • Minimum  - A surgical mask with minimum classification is recommended for procedures not involving fluid, spray, or aerosol.
  • ASTM Classification Level 1 - ASTM Level 1 surgical mask is meant for low-risk situations, procedures not involving spray, aerosol, and fluid.
  • ASTM Classification Level 2 - ASTM Level 2 mask delivers protection against moderate spray, aerosol, and fluid.
  • ASTM Classification Level 3 - ASTM Level 3 surgical mask is ideal for heavy exposure to spray, aerosol, and fluid.

Along with N95 masks, surgical masks are intended for healthcare and frontline workers. Because of the high demand and low supply, the general public is encouraged to use cloth masks and other non-medical disposable masks. If you want to protect yourself from the coronavirus, practice social distancing and wash hands often.

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