Face Masks vs Airborne Diseases - Africa Green Magazine

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Face Masks vs Airborne Diseases



Can wearing a medical face mask protect you against all types of airborne diseases of infections? It's a question many people are asking especially with the outbreak, these last few decades, or very severe infections such as Ebola, Marburg, coronavirus, etc.

The use of surgical masks or respirators is one practice that may reduce the risk of infectious disease transmission between infected and noninfected persons. Nevertheless, it is important to understand the significant differences between these two types of personal protective equipment. The decision whether or not to use either surgical masks or respirators must be based upon a hazard analysis of the dwelling or work environments and the different protective properties of each type of personal protective equipment.

Since there is limited historical information on the effectiveness of surgical masks and respirators for the control of influenza during any previous pandemics, the effectiveness of surgical masks and respirators has been inferred on the basis of the mode of influenza transmission, particle size and professional judgment.

To offer protection, both surgical mask and respirators need to be worn correctly and consistently. If used properly, surgical masks and respirators both have a role in preventing different types of exposures. During an influenza pandemic, surgical masks and respirators need to be used in conjunction with interventions that are known to prevent the spread of infection, such as engineering and administrative controls (e.g., installing sneeze guards, teleworking) and work practices (e.g., cough etiquette, hand hygiene, and avoiding large gatherings).

Respirators are designed to reduce ones' exposure to airborne contaminants. Respirators come in various sizes and must be individually selected to fit the wearer's face and to provide a tight seal. A proper seal between the user's face and the respirator forces inhaled air to be pulled through the respirator's filter material and not through gaps between the face and respirator. Respirators offer the best protection for workers who must work closely (either in contact with or within 6 feet) with people who have influenza-like symptoms.

Surgical masks are used as a physical barrier to protect the user from hazards, such as splashes of large droplets of blood or body fluids. They also protect other people against infection from the person wearing the surgical mask. Such masks trap large particles of body fluids that may contain bacteria or viruses expelled by the wearer.

Surgical masks are not designed or certified to prevent the inhalation of small airborne contaminants that are not visible to the naked eye but may still be capable of causing infections. Surgical masks are not designed to seal tightly against the user's face. Their ability to filter small particles varies significantly based upon the type of material used to it, so they cannot be relied upon for protection against airborne infectious agents. Only surgical masks that are cleared by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to be legally marketed in the United States have been tested for their ability to resist blood and body fluids.

Regular surgical face masks cannot protect against the new coronavirus. A more specialized mask, known as an N95 respirator, is said to be able to protect against the new coronavirus, also called 2019-nCoV. The respirator is thicker than a surgical mask but no evidence of its effectiveness in public use.
Filoviruses (Ebola and Marburg viruses) are the cause of some of the most severe viral hemorrhagic fevers in humans. For Ebola, an average case– fatality rate of 65% has been reported (95% confidence interval (CI) 55–76%).

According to the World Health Organization, other treats include airborne contaminants that can occur in the gaseous form (gases and vapors) or as aerosols, which include airborne dusts, sprays, mists, smokes and fumes. Airborne dusts are of particular concern because they are associated with classical widespread occupational lung diseases such as the pneumoconiosis, as well as with systemic intoxications such as lead poisoning, especially at higher levels of exposure. There is also increasing interest in other dust-related diseases, such as cancer, asthma, allergic alveolitis and irritation, as well as a whole range of non-respiratory illnesses, which may occur at much lower exposure levels.

In order to reduce the incidence of the infection, you can also thoroughly wash your hands; avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands; avoid close contact with people who are sick; and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces. For dust airborne infections, you can only avoid exposure to sources or put on appropriate face masks.

Nadia TIH

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