During the last several months, we’ve been hearing a lot about many types of PPE (personal protective equipment). Gloves, masks, gowns, goggles, face shields, and the list goes on and on. These are all terms we hear constantly on the news, and it’s because they’re crucial for healthcare workers to face the COVID-19 pandemic and to work safely during this difficult time.
One face mask, in particular, the N95 mask, has been considered one of the most effective ones for virus protection. In this article, we’ll discuss why they’re so important, and the particle size they can protect people from.
N95 masks and their importance
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, commonly known as NIOSH, is a federal agency in the USA that is part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This institution was created to prevent work-related illnesses or injuries through research and science-based recommendations and information.
NIOSH, as part of their job, has a classification for respirators, which is considered the standard for filtration rates in the United States. The institution regulates and tests respirators after they’re manufactured to certify they do meet the criteria for each type of respirator inside their classification.
They take into consideration mainly two characteristics in this classification:
- The oil resistance: this refers to whether or not the respirator can filter out particles that contain oil, and this is indicated with a letter at the beginning of the name, which can be either N, for not resistant, R for resistant, and P for oil-proof.
- Filtration rate: this is the percentage of minimum particulate filtration efficacy, which is the minimum amount of airborne particles the respirator can filter out. This is a number at the end of the name, which can be 95, 99, or 100%.
According to this classification, there are nine possible respirator types as a result of the combination of the alternatives in each characteristic. For example, there are R95, N100, or P99 respirators. By now, you might have guessed N95 masks are a type of respirator inside this classification, and based on the explanation we gave you, N95 respirators are those without oil resistance, and with a minimum percentage of particulate filtration of 95%.
This makes N95 respirators a good option to filter out particles that don’t contain oil and are airborne, which includes dust, smoke, and certain viruses like the flu virus or the virus responsible for COVID-19. At the moment, they’re the best disposable face mask for virus protection, with higher antiviral properties than those found in surgical or medical masks and reusable cloth masks. Some popular N95 mask models include the 3M 8511 and 3M 8210, both 3M N95 masks.
KN95 masks are considered the equivalent to N95 masks according to the filtration standards in China and can be used as a substitute when N95 respirators aren’t available. Under the European standards, FFP2 respirators are the equivalent to N95 masks.
Every N95 respirator needs to be approved by NIOSH to be considered legitimate. They test and make sure the mask meets the criteria for an N95 mask, and their approval stamp is the only way to prove this has been done. When N95 masks are intended to be used in the healthcare field, they have to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as well. But, with the COVID-19 pandemic, many N95 and KN95 masks have been granted an Emergency Use Authorization by them.
N95 masks are designed with filters that can trap particles considered to be airborne, which means they have a diameter of 0.3 micrometers (the equivalent of 300 nanometers). These are very small particles that can be transmitted through the air, or fluid droplets, sprays, or splashes.
The Coronavirus pandemic
In December of last year, a new coronavirus species was discovered after the first person was reportedly infected with it. Since the beginning we’ve known this virus, like the other coronaviruses, infects the respiratory tract and causes flu-like symptoms. But, this new species seems to be more deadly than other coronaviruses and has made the whole world go into lockdown.
The majority of the cases are very mild, and can even be asymptomatic, with the most common symptoms being sore throat, dry cough, muscle pain, and fever. The virus has also been reported to cause the loss of taste and smell. However, a percentage of the cases can be very severe, affecting other organs besides the lungs, particularly vulnerable groups of people.
These people include those with cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes, other pre-existing pulmonary conditions, any type of organ failure, immunocompromised patients, and older people. In them, infection from this virus can severely damage the lungs, leading to the need for mechanical ventilation. It can also cause severe complications like thrombosis, multi-organ failure, or even be lethal.
Even though the size of the more severe cases isn’t the majority, a lot of people getting infected at the same time can lead to healthcare centers collapsing and a lot of people dying, which we’ve already seen happen around the world. For this reason, everyone is responsible for stopping the spread of the virus, even younger people and kids, who aren’t as affected by it.
Staying protected is very easy, the only thing necessary is a face-covering of your choosing. These can be found for sale online, available to buy in wholesale or in bulk. Anyone who uses their protective face-covering is helping the most vulnerable people in their communities stay away from the risks of COVID-19.