N-95 Masks for Protection From the Flu Won’t Work to Protect You

N-95 respirator masks are the newest hot selling item for “flu preparedness”, but do they work? Yes. And No. N-95 respirator masks were designed to protect healthcare workers from `airborne` illnesses such as tuberculosis, chicken pox and the flu. They DO work under tightly controlled circumstances, but the general public is not likely to be in those tightly controlled circumstances, so they will likely not benefit from them comprar mascarillas.

Face masks were first used during the 1918 flu epidemic as `protection` against the flu. It likely did not do any good, but laws were enacted and people who didn`t wear them were considered “mask slackers” who could be fined, imprisoned or simply ostracized. With the swine flu claiming more and more victims in the US, people are beginning to react by wearing masks again. But this time, the higher technology N-95 Respirator Mask is all the rage.

The N-95 is NOT your grandfather`s surgical mask or even the same as surgical masks worn by doctors and nurses today like you see in operating rooms. They are specialized pieces of equipment that were designed to protect hospital workers against `airborne` illnesses like tuberculosis, chicken pox and influenza. All of these are very small infectious particles that remain airborne after being exhaled by an infected person. There has been a lot of misinformation about these masks. Some say that they work, some say that they don`t. So what is the truth?

The fact is that N 95 respirators DO protect wearers against the flu- at least in theory and when used properly. The N 95 respirators ARE Airtight and Are Designed to protect the wearer from airborne particles as small as Mycobacterium Tubuculosis- approximately 45 nanometers in width or about 1/2 micron. The swine flu virus, by contrast, is almost twice as large at approximately 80-120 nanometers. In the hospital setting when used by trained practitioners, as set by Centers for Disease Control guidelines, these masks are VERY EFFECTIVE at preventing transmission of these tiny particles

But there are several reasons why the N-95 respirators are unlikely to work for the general public. The first reason is that it is difficult to get the right fit. Health care workers who wear surgical masks are told, “Here, put this on”. Surgical masks can be worn by anyone, anywhere for long periods of time. As shown by people in China wearing masks while riding bicycles to work or even jogging, they are pretty comfortable and easy to use. But a health care worker who uses an N-95 must actually go through a short training session. First, the approximate correct size for your face is chosen and placed tightly onto the face with 2 tight straps fitting onto the head. Second, the metal band on the nose bridge is smoothed down to get a tight fit. Once a correct fit is approximated, the head is placed into a large plastic tube to approximate a confined space. A trainer, usually a nurse, sticks a spray bottle into a small hole and continuously sprays a saccharine solution into the plastic tube while the wearer turns the head from side to side and up and down to make sure that there are no air leaks. If the saccharine solution is tasted, then a good `fit` has not been obtained and the procedure is repeated with another sized mask until an airtight seal is obtained: sometimes difficult for those with particularly small or large faces or those who have facial hair.

The second reason is that N 95 Respirators are uncomfortable, hot and tight. While a surgical mask can be worn for hours without any problems, an N-95 respirator becomes uncomfortable and claustrophobic even in a cool hospital room within just minutes. After caring for someone for even a short while, the breath feels hot and uncomfortable and most begin to sweat- some people sweat PROFUSELY! Taking off the mask after wearing one for only a short while feels as if you stepped into a cool fresh breeze after just getting out of a sauna. Wearing one in an air conditioned theater while just sitting and watching a movie would be unbearable. Wearing one while riding a bicycle or while shopping would be just simply impossible.

Any mask- whether it is surgical or an N-95 is designed to be used for less than 20 minutes at a time. This is because the mask itself will become saturated with condensation from exhaled breath. And once it is saturated, then the pore filter size may be changed making the mask ineffective and potentially even trapping the offending viruses right against the wet mask- Right Next to the Face!

So, while N-95 masks DO effectively protect health care workers from even face to face transmission of airborne contaminants such as the flu, inappropriate usage by untrained lay people in real world circumstances would likely make them ineffective and nullify any of the potential protective effects of these effective filtration devices.

Kerri Knox, RN is a Registered Nurse and Functional Medicine Practitioner. With over 14 years of experience in health care, she has the unique perspective of being solidly grounded in Conventional Medicine and being well versed in Alternative Medicine.