Exact evaluation of the performance of surgical masks and biohazard protective clothing materials against pathogens is important because it can provide helpful information that healthcare workers can use to select suitable materials to reduce infection risk. Currently, to evaluate the protective performance of nonwoven fabrics used in surgical masks against viral aerosols, a non-standardized test method using phi-X174 phage aerosols is widely performed because actual respiratory viruses pose an infection risk during testing and the phage is a safe virus to humans. This method of using a phage is simply modified from a standard method for evaluation of filter performance against bacterial aerosols using Staphylococcus aureus, which is larger than virus particles. However, it is necessary to perform such evaluations based on the size of the actual pathogen particles. Thus, we developed a new method that can be performed safely using inactivated viral particles and can quantitate the influenza virus in aerosols by antigen-capture ELISA (Shimasaki et al., 2016a) . In this study, we used three different microbial aerosols of phi-X174 phage, influenza virus, and S. aureus and tested the filter efficiency by capturing microbial aerosols for two medical nonwoven fabrics. We compared the filter efficiency against each airborne microbe to analyze the dependency of filter efficiency on the microbial particle size. Our results showed that against the three types of spherical microbe particles, the filter efficiencies against influenza virus particles were the lowest and those against phi-X174 phages were the highest for both types of nonwoven fabrics. The experimental results mostly corresponded with theoretical calculations. We conclude that the filter efficiency test using the phi-X174 phage aerosol may overestimate the protective performance of nonwoven fabrics with filter structure compared to that against real pathogens such as the influenza virus.
Keywords: Aerosol; Filter efficiency; Influenza virus; Phi-X174 phage; Staphylococcus aureus.