Objective: The objective of this study was to quantify the effectiveness of selected surgical masks in arresting vegetative cells and endospores in an experimental model that simulated contagious patients.
Methods: Five commercially available surgical masks were tested for their ability to arrest infectious agents. Surgical masks were placed over the nose and mouth of mannequin head forms (Simulaids adult model Brad CPR torso). The mannequins were retrofitted with a nebulizer attached to an automated breathing simulator calibrated to a tidal volume of 500 mL/breath and a breathing rate of 20 breaths/min, for a minute respiratory volume of 10 L/min. Aerosols of endospores or vegetative cells were generated with a modified microbiological research establishment-type 6-jet collision nebulizer, while air samples were taken with all-glass impinger (AGI-30) samplers downstream of the point source. All experiments were conducted in a horizontal bioaerosol chamber.
Results: Mean arrestance of bioaerosols by the surgical masks ranged from 48% to 68% when the masks were challenged with endospores and from 66% to 76% when they were challenged with vegetative cells. When the arrestance of endospores was evaluated, statistical differences were observed between some pairs, though not all, of the models evaluated. There were no statistically significant differences in arrestance observed between models of surgical masks challenged with vegetative cells.
Conclusions: The arrestance of airborne vegetative cells and endospores by surgical masks worn by simulated contagious patients supports surgical mask use as one of the recommended cough etiquette interventions to limit the transmission of airborne infectious agents.