Mini guide to purchasing the different types of masks
Airway protection masks differ in type, specifications and especially in filtering capacity; there are those of cloth, surgical ones, the FFP1, the FFP2 and the FFP3 types, and plexiglass visors have also recently been added to the market. Which one should we choose to ensure adequate airway protection from the transmission of the new Coronavirus?
Masks in fabric
Masks manufactured with cloth fabric are the least protective type of masks: they somehow retain the viral particles emitted by a sick person, but do not protect very much both on entry as well as on exit.
The surgical mask does not adhere to the contours of the face but is able to limit the spread of potentially infectious particles in the environment by blocking at least 95% of the outgoing or external viruses. In the inspiratory phase they have a filtering capacity of 20%, therefore they do not protect the wearer from the inhalation of small air particles. To be safe, surgical masks must be produced in compliance with the UNI EN 14683: 2019 technical standard which provides characteristics and test methods, indicating the requirements of: resistance to liquid splashes, breathability, bacterial filtration efficiency, cleaning by microbes.
In order of increasing protection, FFP1 is one level up respect to the surgical template. These types of masks have a filtering efficiency of 72% both at the inlet and the outlet. If equipped with a valve it does not have a filtering function in the expiratory phase: this means that the wearer, if he was positive for Covid-19 or a healthy carrier, protects himself but not the others because infected material could come out of the valve.
Compared to FFP1 instead, FFP2 masks have a greater filtering capacity, both outward and inward, equal to 92%. In the event that they are equipped with a valve, although it allows better breathing, the protection capacity towards the outside is reduced up to a maximum of 20%.
They are the most protective masks, mainly used in the medical field, in analysis laboratories and also by health professionals who assist infected or potentially infected individuals, and research personnel exposed to high risk. They have a filtering capacity of at least 98% of the particles suspended in the air and an inward leakage of about 2%.
They are useful devices to protect the mucous membranes of the eyes and therefore complementary to the mask because they do not adhere to the face.
Correct use and safety rulesAll the masks are single use and disposable, which means that they should be replaced as often as possible (or washed in the case of those made of fabric), compatibly with what we use them for and the environments in which we wear them. The effectiveness of the masks depends very much on how they are worn, therefore special attention must be paid to children, who should wear them of a size suitable for their face. For correct use, it is important not to touch the front part because that area is the most contaminated and contaminating, therefore they must be worn and removed by touching only the elastic bands. Masks are not alternative solutions to keeping your distance and washing your hands often, which remain fundamental safety measures together with the use of gloves.