Surgical masks may be as good as respirators for protecting against the flu

In an earlier blog, I told you about studies indicating that the only facial apparatus that is likely to protect you from the flu virus is what they call a “respirator.” This refers to an N95 or higher filtering facepiece respirator certified by the U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). Now a new study says that simple, and far less expensive, surgical masks may be as effective.

MedPage Today reports that “surgical masks may be just as good as N95 respirators for protecting healthcare workers against the flu, according to” research reported online in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Data about the effectiveness of the surgical mask compared with the N95 respirator for protecting health care workers against influenza are sparse.

Given the likelihood that N95 respirators will be in short supply during a pandemic and not available in many countries, knowing the effectiveness of the surgical mask is of public health importance.

Researchers found that “nurses who wore surgical masks while caring for patients with flu-like symptoms were no more likely to catch seasonal flu than those who wore the higher filtration devices (23.6 percent versus 22.9 percent, P=0.86).”

The researchers said, however, that “these findings do not apply to settings where there is a high risk that the virus will become aerosolized, such as intubation or bronchoscopy.”

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