Today we know that using masks and prevention measures throughout the population is beneficial. The fact that many people who transmit a disease may not show any symptoms makes masks one of the most common methods of reducing the spread of disease. They are complementary measures that help us to protect ourselves and each other.
Although this new normality is now reaching most of the world, the fact is that facemasks have been widely used in many Asian countries, which has been associated with a reduction in transmission, for example, during the SARS virus epidemic in 2003.
There are several types of facemasks, and it is important to know how they work and what their main uses are. Today we receive different information about the variety of masks available, and the amount of information circulating can make it somewhat confusing. That's why we've created an easy guide to help you understand what each type is. Below we explain what the different options are and what makes each one different.
Masks that are considered PPE (personal protective equipment) are those that are intended to protect people from inhaling harmful substances. These substances are not only viruses, but also particles that are toxic, for example, because of their chemical composition. This type of mask must comply with strict regulations, and according to these, several types are established:
FFP1: has a low efficiency (78% minimum filtration efficiency, 22% leakage to the outside.)
FFP2: with a medium efficiency of 92% minimum filtration efficiency, 8% leakage to the outside.
FFP3: high efficiency. 98% minimum filtration efficiency, 2% leakage to the outside
N95: 95% minimum filtration efficiency, 5% leakage to the outside
All these masks are subjected to specific processes in which they are tested to see if they have the required filtering capacity.
Greater or lesser effectiveness does not mean that FFP1 is "bad", but that it is used for other purposes and with other guidelines.
In the medical context, you will probably see FFP2 masks. You may have heard of the N95, the approved model recommended by the WHO and used in the USA. It is equivalent in protection to an FFP2 or FFP3.
These masks are rectangular and made of fine materials with a thickness reminiscent of paper. Their fit is not very strong and they should cover the nose, mouth and chin. Surgical masks are disposable and reuse is not recommended, so try to get rid of them as soon as you have finished their first use.
If they are used properly, they prevent a significant part of the particles we expel in droplets from reaching other people. This is why this type of mask helps to protect others. To a lesser extent, these masks can also offer some protection from other people's secretions.
Surgical masks vary in size, and you may find some that offer extra protection for your eyes, cheekbones, or even your forehead. You may well see these types of masks, for example, at a dentist or a restaurant that wants to take extra precautions. They are also used in hospital environments where extra hygiene is needed (compared to a floor where no mask is used).
Hygienic masks (UBIK)
These masks are not intended for medical use and are made of fabrics to provide coverage to the user. Many institutions recommend the use of cloth masks or in order to reduce the transmission of viruses in society, especially in those people who are asymptomatic carriers.
In addition, it is important that, in the event of a shortage of approved masks, you do not purchase them if you are not medical or risk personnel, because by doing so you deprive health professionals and workers who need them of access to masks.
The benefits of using cloth masks
One of the great advantages of fabric masks is that very common materials can be used, so there is no risk of supply shortage. In addition, they can reduce the risk of people who are asymptomatic or have very mild symptoms from speaking, coughing or sneezing.
For this reason, fabric masks are a good option over no other method of protection, and when it is very difficult to maintain a safe distance between people. We recommend that you incorporate them as one more accessory in your daily life.
Precautions when using cloth masks:
● Wearing a mask can give a false sense of security. Remember that no mask guarantees you total protection, but it does not guarantee that you will avoid contagion.
● The use of cloth masks does not prevent the continuation of the usual hygiene guidelines. Therefore, you should continue to pay special attention to washing your hands often and maintaining a safe social distance.
Which fabric is more effective?
This is a very common question these days. There is a boom of people who have started making their own masks and want to know what kind of fabric can be more effective, and how it should be arranged to offer more protection.
If only one layer of fabric is used, high-density cotton in yarns (how many threads are in each square centimeter) is one of the fabrics that has proved to be most effective. So-called Egyptian cotton usually has this high density. In general, however, fabrics are more effective if several layers are used, especially if they are a mixture of materials.
One layer of cotton combined with two layers of silk, for example, can filter out up to 90% of particles larger than 300 nanometres. You can get a similar result by combining two layers of chiffon or one layer of flannel to one layer of cotton.
The effectiveness of these fabrics has been studied by scientists. It is believed that the results in filtration and its effectiveness are produced by a combination of mechanical and electrostatic filtration. How does this work? Let's assume you have a layer of high density cotton. This will be able to prevent some particles from getting into the gaps between the fibres (since the spaces between the threads are smaller). If you add a layer of silk, it is very likely that the electrostatic charge of the silk will also be able to trap particles.
IMPORTANT: The material is only one of the important aspects. It is essential, whatever mask you wear, that it fits the shape of your face and does not leave any unnecessary gaps. It has been estimated that poorly fitting masks can lose up to 60 percent of their effectiveness, a critical percentage when it comes to preventing transmission in populations. Therefore, always ask about their size, and make sure that minors have a model adapted to their physiognomy.