Have you ever wondered just how much help wearing a medical mask is? It doesn’t seem like it would be a whole lot, considering how thin they are, but a new study has shown that they provide greater help than was previously thought.
Crosstex International, a subsidiary of Cantel Medical Corp., announced today the publication of sponsored research that suggests a far greater infection prevention value of medical face masks, commonly referred to as surgical masks, than previously understood. The key outcome challenges conventional wisdom that a medical mask or respirator is most effective when worn by a person attempting to protect oneself from exposure to infectious matter. Instead, if FDA-cleared medical face masks are worn at the potential source of the infection, the level of overall protection is magnified up to 300-fold. Published in the September issue of the American Journal of Infection Control, the research study, entitled “Quantifying Exposure Risk and Mask Protection”, was conducted by Keith Diaz, MD, and Gerald Smaldone, MD, PhD, at Stony Brook University Medical Center in Stony Brook, NY.
This study supports the newest Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines (September 2010) on Seasonal Influenza Prevention Strategies in Healthcare Settings, which recommend the use of medical face masks to minimize potential exposure to influenza viruses in healthcare settings. The simulated bench study examined the efficacy of N95 respirators and medical face masks in their ability to reduce exposure to infectious particles when used either as protective devices (to protect the wearer) or as “source control” devices (to control infection at the source, such as a person with flu-like symptoms). The authors’ results demonstrate “the most important factor in reducing exposure was deflection of exhaled particles at the source.”
“This evidence offers healthcare providers and public health officials new insight into the benefit of medical face masks as source control devices,” said Gary Steinberg, CEO of Crosstex International. “It was clear that medical face masks were being narrowly compared to N95 respirators for their ability to protect the wearer from the outside-in. We wanted to better understand the value of medical face masks for source control, that is, protecting others from the inside-out,” said Matt Conlon, Vice President at Cantel Medical. While medical face masks are commonly referred to as “PPE” (Personal Protection Equipment), their original purpose was to protect the patient from acquiring an infection from the physician. This new research is the first to quantify their important role in controlling the infection at the source and further demonstrated that a tighter fitting medical mask performs best in source control.
The findings come in the wake of the 2009 H1N1 pandemic when there were significant complications, shortages, and debate surrounding the CDC’s formal recommendation for the use of N95’s by healthcare workers for protection against the H1N1 virus. Steinberg said, “This shows an exponential infection control benefit at a fraction of the cost and complexity of using N95 respirators. As one of the few remaining U.S. manufacturers of medical masks, it is important for Crosstex to continue funding this type of independent research to address infectious disease threats through continued mask innovation. We don’t overlook the fact that masks are medical devices. We understand they can save lives and dramatically reduce costs associated with respiratory-borne infections.”