The COVID-19 pandemic has brought a lot of problems with it, from countless cases and deaths related to the virus, to economic problems, to the collapse of the healthcare system, the world has turned upside down. Medical PPE (personal protective equipment) in particular has been one of the most prominent topics of discussion.
Medical supplies, including surgical masks, gowns, gloves, face shields, KN95 masks, and respirators, have been difficult to find for sale and shortages have been affecting healthcare centers across the United States. This has led to the sale of counterfeit masks that haven’t passed the required tests, and which can be dangerous if used in healthcare settings.
To avoid these situations, in which a lot of money can be lost and lives can be put in danger, it’s important to be informed. In this article, we’ll talk about the general aspects of N95 masks, how to spot counterfeit masks, and which companies are the most trustworthy ones when it comes to medical PPE.
Understanding N95 masks
N95 masks are considered the best face masks when it comes to protection against the virus responsible for COVID-19. This is why healthcare facilities are needing them for antiviral purposes, since they offer higher virus protection than other disposable face masks available on the market.
The reason for this is their filtration efficacy. The name of this respirator indicates that it’s a face mask that isn’t resistant to oil with a percentage of minimum particulate filtration efficacy of 95%. This means they can filter out at least 95% of the non-oil-based airborne particles in the air the wearer is breathing.
This name and characteristics is established by a federal agency, which is part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), known as NIOSH. This acronym stands for the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, and they regulate respirators as part of their main goal to help workplaces across the USA prevent occupational injuries or illnesses.
Particles that meet the characteristics of being non-oil-based and airborne, meaning that they have a size as small as 0.3 micrometers and therefore can travel long distances through the air, as well as not containing any oil molecules in them, include a wide variety that can be found in different work settings. This is why N95 masks have a lot of different uses. For example, some of the particles they can protect against include dust, smoke, pollen, and viruses like the flu or the SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for COVID-19.
All face masks manufactured as N95 respirators must be tested by NIOSH first to prove they meet the filtration standard set by them. This is the same with all the respirators manufactured following the NIOSH classification. For example, a manufacturer that intends to market and distribute a respirator as N95 must submit it to NIOSH for them to test out and approve if it meets their standards. For N95 masks that are marketed to be used in healthcare settings, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) must also approve them as they do with all medical equipment.
A name you’ve probably heard or read the term KN95 mask and think they’re the same as N95 masks. Although they’re very similar not only in their name but in their filtration efficacy, and can sometimes be used as interchangeable, KN95 masks are regulated by different filtration standards used in China. Technically, they’re not the same mask, but many KN95 mask models have been granted an Emergency Use Authorization by the FDA during the pandemic.
Signs that an N95 mask is counterfeit, and how to look for certified models and manufacturers
The problem with the selling of counterfeit medical supplies, particularly N95 masks, has been ongoing for the majority of the year. Online stores and websites like eBay have been struggling to eradicate this illegal activity, but it has been a difficult task.
If a hospital were to purchase these masks in bulk or wholesale, healthcare workers would be putting their lives at risk by getting infected or infecting others and risking their lives. This is because counterfeit masks don’t have the NIOSH approval, and therefore their efficacy hasn’t been proven.
COVID-10 is a respiratory illness that can be deathly to certain people with risk factors, and infecting them, whether they’re patients or healthcare providers, would be devastating. This is why it’s very important to only use high-quality supplies and PPE, especially in healthcare facilities where exposure to the virus is much higher.
Some of the characteristics that are present in low-quality, non-NIOSH-approved respirators include:
Not having the approval label by NIOSH, which is usually found on the packaging, the instructions, or on the respirator itself.
- Sometimes, the respirators can have a fake approval label with the acronym misspelled, with the most common misspelling being ‘NOISH’.
- Counterfeit respirators are often marketed to be used by kids, when N95 masks are not supposed to be used by children.
- Having ear-loops instead of headbands. This might seem like a small detail, but it’s a good way to turn on the alarms.
- Having decorative accessories and fabrics.
To be sure of which brands and models are regulated and approved by NIOSH, the CDC has a list of the approved models on their website. Any company, brand, or model that isn’t listed there should be suspicious of selling low-quality masks that aren’t regulated properly.
It’s always best to purchase N95 masks from reputable and reliable brands. 3M N95 masks are known to be high-quality, with popular models being the 3M 8210, the 3M 8511, and the 3M 1860.