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Not found for many weeks, respiratory masks are again available almost everywhere and models are multiplying. Surgical mask, FFP2 mask, KN95 or N95 mask … Faced with all these standards, it becomes difficult to navigate , especially when you are not used to using this type of medical device. What are the differences between these different types of protective masks and which one to choose for the best protection? Pharma simple takes stock of this object which has become the symbol of the fight against the corona virus.

To date, a number of countries are beginning their deconfinement and many are brandishing the wearing of masks as an essential condition for the smooth running of this more than sensitive stage in the fight against the corona virus epidemic. Compulsory in certain places such as public transport, the respiratory mask is therefore strongly recommended to the entire population in order to protect themselves from postilions and droplets that may contain the virus, but also to protect others from these same postilions. A question is therefore on everyone’s lips:

What are the different types of protective masks and which one to wear?

You must have noticed that on the street or in stores there are different types of protective masks . We distinguish them thanks to their variable shape and material, but do we really know what their differences are? We take stock of the most common masks:

The surgical mask: the most common

The surgical mask is a so-called “anti-projection” mask for single use . Its main function is in fact to prevent the wearer from spreading secretions from the airways and potentially carrying the virus into the atmosphere. These secretions can take the form of relatively “large” droplets and therefore easier to filter out, but also of extremely fine particles with a size of less than 5 microns. They are projected into the air when we cough or sneeze for example.

The surgical mask is worn daily in hospitals, especially during surgical operations to avoid contaminating the operating room and the equipment therein. It should also be worn by all contagious people to protect those around them.

On the technical side, the surgical mask must be made of 3 layers: 2 layers of non-woven material enclosing 1 layer of filtering material. It is held on the face either with the help of 2 elastics that are passed behind the ears or by ties that are crossed behind the head and that are tied. Most models of surgical masks also have a bar at the nose to adjust the mask there so that it sticks as closely as possible to the shape of the nose. The entire device should cover the entire lower part of the face, from the top of the nose to the chin.

Due to its ability to retain secretions, the effectiveness of the surgical mask in the fight against the corona virus epidemic is real, provided that the wearing of the mask is generalized. Indeed, if everyone wears a surgical mask, the exchange of secretions is considerably reduced or even disappears completely and the rate of contamination mathematically decreases.

The FFP2, KN95 or N95 mask: masks reserved for medical personnel?

The FFP2 mask is a filtering respiratory device intended to protect the wearer from inhalation of infectious agents transmissible by air. The FFP2 mask is part of the category of FFP masks either in English filtering facepiece(literally “filtering facepiece”). The number following the letters FFP (1, 2 or 3) corresponds to the filtration efficiency class, the FFP1 mask being more of an “anti-dust” mask and the FFP3 being the more filtering mask. The model that interests us here and which is the most widespread in the fight against the corona virus is the FFP2 mask. This device aims to filter all harmful substances, whether of chemical or infectious origin. Its filtration capacity is at least 94%. The FFP2 mask is more rigid than the surgical mask and some models are fitted with a valve for better breathing comfort. The main alternative of these masks is black face masks.

The FFP2 mask therefore has a higher filtration capacity than a simple surgical mask. It must be worn in risky situations , in the presence of a contagious patient in particular. It is used by medical personnel during intervention in contact with infected people.

What are the differences between the FFP2, N95 and KN95 masks?

The N95 and KN95 protective masks are equivalents of the FFP2 mask. The N95 mask corresponds to the standard used in the American zone and the KN95 mask meets the standard in force in China and South Korea. Their characteristics are very similar and this is just a story of standards used by different countries around the world.

The fabric mask: the alternative for the general public

Faced with the shortage of surgical masks and FFP2, an alternative has developed a lot in recent weeks: the fabric mask. Washable and reusable , and therefore more economical in the long term, the fabric mask is less efficient than the respiratory masks mentioned above since it is a simple barrier mask . However, its use by the population can be of interest to curb the spread of the virus.

To be effective, the fabric mask must nevertheless meet certain standards. In France, we will remember in particular the rules decreed by Afnor (French Association for Standardization)  which supervises the manufacture of fabric masks by companies or individuals, giving precise indications. These rules concern in particular the type of fabric to use, the number of folds, the shape of the mask, etc.