Can Medical Face Masks Prevent Viral Infections?

Viral infections, as we all know, are highly contagious. It is caused by harmful viruses that are incapable of self-survival and depend on the host organisms for the same. Viral infections can easily be transmitted from person-to-person through various means, some of them are through direct contact with an infected person, by consuming contaminated food and water, through unsafe, polygamous sexual practices and other ways. These harmful viruses once they enter the human body can create havoc and when left untreated and uncontrolled leads to the outbreak of epidemics in the community. The recent coronavirus outbreak is a perfect eg. of how a virus when left unmanaged can create a global pandemic and bring life itself to a standstill.

So, it is very important to firstly prevent the chances of a possible outbreak and if in case it does then adopt certain measures which are required of every individual to practice responsibly so as to bring the situation under control. Some of these include getting appropriate vaccinations to safeguard one’s health, adopting hygienic practices like regularly washing hands, using germ-killing hand-sanitizers, using face masks while going out in public, covering one’s mouth whilst coughing, sneezing and certain other simple measures which need to be followed.

In this article, we will discuss in detail the role of medical face masks in the prevention of viral infections and the various varieties of the same that are available to us in the market today. 

Medical Face Masks

What Are Medical Face Masks?

Medical face masks are a type of protective gear that helps to prevent the spread of infectious viral and bacterial diseases (1). It is designed to cover the nose and mouth of the wearer so as to avoid droplets from the infected person to come into contact with a healthy person through coughing or sneezing. There are different types of medical face masks and they differ in terms of the particles they filter out. There is no 100% guarantee that medical face masks can completely prevent the contraction of viral infections but it sure works to a certain extend.   

Who should use a Medical Face Mask?

Under normal circumstances, Doctors advise those with a viral infection to wear medical face masks so as to avoid transmitting the infection onto other people when they speak, cough or sneeze. Medical staff and healthcare professionals who handle an infected person should also wear face masks at all times. However, in the case of a global outbreak of viral infection as in the case of COVID-19 currently, everyone who steps out of their houses is advised to wear medical face masks as the disease is highly contagious. Also, It is best to do thorough research on what type of medical face mask one should purchase or take the advice of a healthcare professional before deciding whether and when one should buy a face mask for personal use. Most medical professionals recommend only the infected person to adorn a medical face mask at all times but when the time calls for it then everyone should keep it handy to use it as and when needed.

How To Put To Use A Medical Face Mask Effectively

If a person is instructed to put a face mask by a healthcare professional, they should follow certain steps in order to wear the mask to its full potential. Following are the steps to follow:

  • Wash hands thoroughly 20 seconds with soap and water before touching the mask. In case of unavailability of the same, use a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol content.
  • Carefully place the mask over your nose and mouth ensuring there are no gaps in between your face and the mask.
  • Avoid touching the mask with your hands as much as possible and if you do touch then wash your hands or use a hand sanitizer to clean your hands.
  • Discard a used mask into a closed garbage bin responsibly and avoid touching the front part of the mask while doing so.
  • Wash hands thoroughly once the mask has been discarded.
  • Repeat all the above steps carefully and responsibly before adorning a new medical face mask.

What Are The Different Types of Face Masks Available

  1. Surgical Face Masks

Approved by the FDA, these masks are worn by doctors, dentists, nurses and all healthcare professionals to be used as disposable medical devices. It is recommended to use them at all times during medical practicing hours. The main purpose of using this mask is to avoid medical professionals from contracting serious illnesses through bodily fluids of infected patients which may escape through their nose and mouth. These masks are usually loose-fitting in nature and the best kinds are those with a fine mesh that is able to filter out very small organisms (2).

  1. N95 Respirator Mask

As the name suggests, these masks are capable of filtering out up to 95% airborne particles in the air like harmful viruses and are capable of filtering out both large and small particles. These disposable masks are also known as respirators and are selected to fit the wearer’s face. They are used by healthcare professionals and not recommended for patient use. It requires proper training to wear and remove these kinds of masks for it to function effectively. These masks work more towards preventing harmful viruses from entering the body through the respiratory tract than normal masks. N95 respirator masks can also be used by painters and those handling toxic chemicals. OxyBreath Pro Mask is one of the best N95 masks available in the market today. Designed to filter air through 3 layers this mask ensures even minute particles are filtered. N95 Respiratory Masks are approved by the CDC and National Institute for Occupational Health. However, those with chronic respiratory or cardiac diseases should check with their doctor before adorning N95 respirator masks as they render a much tighter seal once worn.

  1. Elastomeric Respirators

These masks are similar to N95 masks in terms of functioning but unlike the former, the Elastomeric masks are not disposable. It is made of rubber or other synthetic materials and requires disinfecting after each use. For this very reason, the usage of these masks is not very feasible in a healthcare environment. Also, compared to other medical face masks the elastomeric masks are slightly more expensive. It has a detachable filter that should be replaced after each use. For best results, the mask should be properly tightened and fitted to the face.

  1. Powered Air Purifying Respirators (PAPRs)

These types of medical face masks are more effective than the N95 respirator masks and the elastomeric mask. They are battery-powered, have a more comfortable fit especially for longer time periods and resemble a hood or a helmet. Their care and maintenance requires proper knowledge and is of utmost importance for them to function properly. The battery-powered motor in a Powered Air Purifying Respirator pushes air through a filter thereby ensuring better, improved and cleaner air inhalation. Batteries must b fully charged and the masks should be disinfected after each use. Proper handling and removal of these masks should be adhered to during every usage. They are ideal to use in hospitals and other healthcare facilities since proper training needs to be imparted to those wearing it. It is also comparatively expensive.

Conclusion

The popular saying ‘prevention is better than cure’ works aptly when it comes to viral infections. In a person’s lifetime, he or she is susceptible to various harmful germs, bacteria, and viruses which may or may not cause diseases and related discomforts. Owing to its contagious nature if one catches a viral infection it is best advised to stay at home until the symptoms reduce and the person heals. Those with a weakened immune system owing to their age or underlying diseases like diabetes, arthritis, lupus and other such diseases should practice extra precaution at all times. Viral infections can surely be managed and prevented, all one needs to do is to take the necessary precautions. Anti-viral drugs, immuno globulins and vaccinations all play a significant role in preventing the contraction, spread, and outbreak of viral infections. So fear not, keep washing your hands, grab your Safe Mask that best suits your need, consults your doctor when the need arises and voila you’re good to live healthy and happy.

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