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COVID-19 Which protective face mask is the right one

COVID-19: Which protective face mask is the right one?

Corona and the possibilities of protecting oneself against the virus are currently raising many questions in the public. The use and availability of breathing masks also play a central role.

3M is one of the world’s leading suppliers of personal protective equipment and medical solutions that are being used right now in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. We answer the most important questions about respiratory protection at the moment.

Does it make sense to wear a mask to protect against infection?

In this context, the guidelines of the health authorities should always be followed. The World Health Organization (WHO) has not yet issued any recommendation for the use of respiratory masks for the general population. In particular, exposure to respiratory masks may pose an additional risk to people with underlying conditions, e.g. asthmatics.

It makes much more sense to consistently follow the recommended hygiene rules, such as keeping your distance and careful hand hygiene. This also corresponds to the current official recommendations.

When should a breathing mask be worn nevertheless?

The use of a respiratory mask is currently only recommended for people who are in direct contact with probably infected persons, e.g. doctors and nursing staff.

Various mask designs are seen in the media. What types of masks are available?

Does it make sense to wear a mask to protect against infection?
Unsplash/Michael Amadeus

All masks are often referred to as protective masks. However, a distinction should be made between surgical masks (mouth-nose protection or MNS) and respiratory masks. Surgical masks are mainly used to protect the environment from the germs that the wearer could spread by breathing or sneezing, for example. Respiratory masks, on the other hand, serve to protect the wearer from airborne pollutants such as viruses.

Respiratory masks again come in different groups. For protection against viruses and microorganisms, masks with a particle filter are generally suitable. These include so-called particle filtering half masks, better known as FFP masks (FFP = filtering face piece).

Which protection levels are there and which are necessary?

There are three levels of protection with FFP masks: FFP1, FFP2 and FFP3. The WHO and the Robert Koch Institute recommend at least protection level 2 for the medical sector.

What do I need to consider when using a classic respiratory protection mask (FFP)?

A respirator is only effective if it is worn correctly. Before putting on the mask, hands should be thoroughly cleaned with soap and water or a suitable disinfectant. The mask must be put on according to the instructions supplied with it. It must completely cover the mouth and nose. Ensure that there are no gaps between the face and mask. Beard wearers cannot reach a seal.

To remove the breathing mask, the wearer must first move to a safe area. It is important to remove the mask from the face at an angle downwards, slightly bent forward. It should then be placed in a closed container immediately. Afterwards, the hands must be cleaned with disinfectant or with soap and water.

How do you recognize an FFP mask?

FFP masks are tested and approved in Europe according to EN 149. On the mask there is a reference to this standard together with the protection level (FFP1, FFP2 or FFP3) and the CE mark, behind which there is a 4-digit number.

How long can an FFP mask be worn?

FFP masks can generally be worn until they are dirty or damaged or until it becomes harder to breathe. Statements such as those often read in the media, e.g. that the filter generally loses its function after 20 minutes of use, are factually incorrect.

Can an FFP mask be used several times?

Normally, reuse is not intended, as there is a risk of the mask becoming contaminated on the inside when it is taken off and put back on again. However, reuse is possible in declared emergency situations.

Can I share a respirator with other people?

No. FFP masks must not be shared with others for reasons of hygiene.

Can microfibre cloths or wet handkerchiefs help protect?

Microfibre cloths, scarves, wet tissues or similar items are neither designed nor tested to filter out harmful substances such as viruses. They should therefore not be used to protect against viruses. Even wearing a self-sewn mouthguard does not provide clearly defined protection. However, similar to surgical masks, it can possibly help to reduce the risk of infecting other people by holding back droplets that are produced when coughing or sneezing (protection of fellow humans).

Are respiratory masks also suitable for children?

A respirator must seal well on the face to be effective. Respiratory protection masks are generally designed for adults. Children’s faces may therefore be too small to achieve a good seal with a respirator. Also, the exposure from a respirator may be too high for children. In addition, it is difficult for children to follow the strict rules for proper and safe use of the masks. Infants and young children should never wear respirators because of the risk of suffocation.

Can the general public help in the production of respirators?

No, the best way for the general population to support the health care system is to wear respirators only when recommended or ordered by the appropriate authorities (e.g. health authorities).

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