How effective is the filtration process of surgical masks?

Worldwide healthcare systems have been tested when the year started. This is all because of the deadly coronavirus. The virus has been terrorizing people from all walks of life, leaving millions of positive cases; and hundreds of thousands of casualties.

This led government officials from across the world to formulate mitigations to demobilize covid-19 transmissions. Therefore, mask mandates were born. Mask mandates require citizens to wear protective masks while in public. According to a study, wearing masks can help prevent a further surge of the contagion. In fact, the worldwide covid-19 tracker showed slight mobility in transmission. Masks are indeed proven protective gear in this time of need. However, not all masks are created. Some offer quality protection. Others offer not as much.

In a study conducted by a group of American scientists, along with medical experts and doctors, there are only two masks that are appropriate in this time of crisis. N95 mask and surgical mask are the two masks that emerged to be effective as protective masks, busting out 12 others.

With the reported scarcity of the N95 mask, surgical masks are now being used widely by people. Before the pandemic, masks like surgical masks had been used widely in hospitals. Be it in operations or other medical procedures, the surgical mask was the mask to go. In absence of the N95 mask, people working in the medical field wear multiple plies of surgical masks just to keep themselves protected.

How does a surgical mask work?

Physically the surgical mask has two colors; blue on the outside and white on the inside. The surgical mask has elastic straps that are wrapped around the ears. The surgical mask has three-walls of protection in which the center part of the mask, which is a non-woven fabric, does the filtering magic. Although the surgical mask is not as effective as the N95 mask, the surgical mask is still proven to filter large particles. It prevents the wearer from contacting fluids on the outside and traps fluid particles like saliva and phlegm on the inside. The surgical mask is waterproof and must be disposed of every after use.  The surgical mask is loose-fitting; making it more prone to leakage. Thus, safe to use even those with breathing difficulties can use this. The surgical mask is loose-fitting; making it more prone to leakage.                                                                                                                                            

Filtration efficiency of the surgical mask

The surgical mask is not as effective as the N95 mask. This is because the surgical mask that is compared is only a common surgical mask. In a study, a common surgical mask exhibited a penetration level of around 55-85%, with filtration levels of around 60-70%. These numbers speak so much about the filtration efficiency of the surgical mask. However, the one that is used in hospitals is not a common surgical mask.

ASTM surgical mask is a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) cleared mask. This type of surgical mask is made to have better filtration efficiency. Unlike the common surgical mask, the ASTM surgical mask is carefully engineered to withstand tests of pressure, flame, and fluid resistance. Since this type of surgical mask is cleared by the FDA, therefore it follows the standards of the organization.

The ASTM levels 1, 2, and 3 are the most efficient ASTM categories for the surgical masks. The filtration levels of ASTM levels 1 and 2 surgical masks are at 95%; capable of filtering particles of 0.1 microns in size and bacteria of 3.0 microns in size. The same goes for the ASTM level 3 surgical mask with a filtration efficiency of 98%. The given filtration ability makes the ASTM surgical mask to have great resistance to fluid and pressure.

All ASTM levels of the surgical mask are ISO certified. Therefore, a surgical mask that passed the standards of the ASTM is tested to be of international standard. This also means that the surgical mask does not harm anyone who wears it and does not develop any form of skin irritation.

However, only the ASTM levels 1 and 2 surgical masks are best to wear in public. In masks, the higher the filtration level, the more difficult it is to breathe. ASTM level 3 surgical mask can be a little difficult to breathe due to its filtration ability. This is why ASTM level 3 surgical masks are most preferred in hospitals.

These prove that the ASTM surgical mask is an efficient mask compared to the single-use surgical mask that is most likely the common surgical mask. Like the N95 mask, the ASTM surgical mask is a protective mask that people can wear in public. Once worn properly, the ASTM surgical mask can function and offer the protection it suggests.

Aside from the US surgical mask, there are other surgical masks like the European and Chinese counterparts. However, these counterparts are still subject to further tests and experimentations to figure out their filtration efficiency and precision.

Just like the N95 mask, the surgical mask also experiences issues like scarcity. This is due to the overwhelming demand. Aside from it, there were reported incidents of looting and impulsive buying of the surgical mask. Besides, there are reported incidents of counterfeiting.  

With the expressed scarcity, people can also wear other alternatives to the surgical mask like cloth masks. Cloth masks may not be that efficient infiltration but it can also guarantee protection. A mask is better than no mask.

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