Background: The SARS outbreak in 2003 has spawned a major controversy concerning protective performance facemasks for healthcare workers. This study reports a study on in-vivo protective performance of surgical masks and N95 respirators.
Methods: Typical surgical masks and N95 respirators used in Hong Kong hospitals were tested in comparison with those treated with nano-functional materials (called nano-masks) on various physical properties and in-vivo wear filtration efficiency, as well as usability test in hospitals for surgical masks.
Results: Tests on physical properties showed that N95 respirators had significantly lower air permeability and water vapor permeability than surgical masks. The in-vivo filtration tests illustrated that N95 respirators filtered out 97% of potassium chloride (KCl) solution, while surgical masks filtered out 95% of KCl solution. Nano-masks show stronger water repellency and antibacterial activities, but no difference in usability, comparing with normal N95 and surgical masks.
Conclusions: Surgical masks can provide in-vivo filtration protection of 95% filtration efficiency. N95 respirators provide higher in-vivo filtration efficiency of 97% with significant reduction of air permeability and water vapor permeability. Compared to normal surgical masks/respirators, the nano-masks can provide additional protective functions in stopping capillary diffusion and antibacterial activities.