What you should know about different types of masks

In view of the spread of the new strains of SARS-CoV-2, with a greater capacity for transmission of the disease, several European countries are strengthening measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19. One of the measures is to prohibit the use of community masks. Many of them are homemade and without any quality control or certification. It is, therefore, important to explain and clarify the type of protection and use of each model.

Masks are medical devices that cover the mouth, nose and chin, providing a barrier that limits contamination by microorganisms, helping reduce and / or control the spread and inhalation of droplets of the person using the device.

The correct use of masks is one of the most effective measures for the prevention of COVID-19 infection, hence the importance of following the recommendation of health authorities when using a mask in all public spaces, open or closed.

Because they are not subject to any type of certification or quality control, some homemade masks, usually made from various types of fabric (washed and reused multiple times), also called community masks, may not have the desired effectiveness in preventing the spread and inhalation of droplets and contamination by microorganisms.

Surgical masks protect from the spread and/or inhalation of droplets and have a blocking capacity equal to or greater than 95%. They are, therefore, effective in filtering potentially infectious particles and suitable for use in open and closed public spaces, namely stores, public transport or in the street.

After a maximum of four hours’ use, surgical masks must be replaced, otherwise they lose their effectiveness. These masks cannot be washed or reused. Its correct use implies covering the mouth, nose and chin.

FFP-2 masks consist of a respirator that has a particle filtration capacity, equal to or greater than 95%. Several studies have compared the effectiveness of using FFP-2 masks with surgical masks in the prevention of influenza. It was found that, although there is no significant difference between FPP-2 masks and surgical masks, there is a possible additional protection associated with masks that have a respirator.

FFP-2 masks are used in an environment where there is a greater exposure to pathogens, namely in a hospital environment. They are used by medical staff when executing certain procedures that imply greater risk. In the current pandemic context, they may be considered in areas or environments where there might be a higher risk of transmission.

Bearing in mind the impossibility of ensuring the quality of all community masks based on the assumption that they will continue to be used by the population, the Portuguese Society of Pulmonology considers that:

a) the mandatory use of surgical masks should be considered, and the use of community masks certified by CITEVE (Centre for Innovation and Technological Development of the Textile and Clothing Industries) should be considered, when fulfilling particle filtration criteria, breathability and good adhesion to the face and nose, as they offer comparable protection.

b) in higher risk situations, namely caregivers of infected patients or families where a member is infected with COVID-19, or places associated with greater aerosolization and dissemination of respiratory droplets, the use of FFP-2 masks should be considered.

c) using a mask does not replace other measures, physical distancing, disinfection and adequate ventilation of enclosed spaces are equally essential.

Article submitted by HPA Health Group