A surgical mask, also known as a procedure mask, medical mask or simply as a face mask, is intended to be worn by health professionals during surgery and during nursing to catch the bacteria shed in liquid droplets and aerosols from the wearer's mouth and nose. They are not designed to protect the wearer from inhaling airborne bacteria or virus particles and are less effective than respirators, such as N95 or FFP masks, which provide better protection due to their material, shape and tight seal.
Surgical masks are popularly worn by the general public all year round in East Asian countries like China, Japan and South Korea to reduce the chance of spreading airborne diseases to others, and to prevent the breathing in of airborne dust particles created by air pollution. Additionally, surgical masks have become a fashion statement, particularly in contemporary East Asian culture bolstered by its popularity in Japanese and Korean pop culture which have a big impact on East Asian youth culture. Shortage of surgical masks is a central issue of ongoing 2020 coronavirus pandemic.
A surgical mask is a loose-fitting, disposable device that creates a physical barrier between the mouth and nose of the wearer and potential contaminants in the immediate environment. If worn properly, a surgical mask is meant to help block large-particle droplets, splashes, sprays, or splatter that may contain viruses and bacteria, keeping it from reaching the wearer's mouth and nose. Surgical masks may also help reduce exposure of the wearer's saliva and respiratory secretions to others. Surgical mask also remind wearers not to touch their mouth or nose, which could otherwise transfer viruses and bacteria after having touched a contaminated surface.
A surgical mask, by design, does not filter or block very small particles in the air that may be transmitted by coughs, sneezes, or certain medical procedures. Surgical masks also do not provide complete protection from germs and other contaminants because of the loose fit between the surface of the face mask and the face.
A surgical mask is not to be confused with a respirator and is not certified as such. Surgical masks are not designed to protect the wearer from inhaling airborne bacteria or virus particles and are less effective than respirators, which are designed for this purpose. Collection efficiency of surgical mask filters can range from less than 10% to nearly 90% for different manufacturers’ masks when measured using the test parameters for NIOSH certification. However, a study found that even for surgical masks with "good" filters, 80–100% of subjects failed an OSHA-accepted qualitative fit test, and a quantitative test showed 12–25% leakage.
Modern surgical masks are made from paper or other non-woven material and should be discarded after each use.
The design of the surgical masks depends on the mode; usually the masks are three-ply (three layers). This three-ply material is made up from a melt-blown material placed between non-woven fabric. The melt-blown material acts as the filter that stops microbes from entering or exiting the mask. Most surgical masks feature pleats or folds. Three pleats are used to allow the user to expand the mask such that it covers the area from the nose to the chin.
There are three different ways to secure the masks. The most popular is the ear loop, where a string-like material is attached to the mask and placed behind the ears. The other is the tie-on, which consists of four non-woven straps that are tied behind the head. The third is the headband, an elastic strap which is secured behind the head.
A surgical mask, or procedure mask, is intended to be worn by health professionals during surgery and certain health care procedures to catch microorganisms shed in liquid droplets and aerosols from the wearer's mouth and nose.
Evidence supports the effectiveness of surgical masks in reducing the risk of infection among other healthcare workers and in the community. However, a Cochrane review found that there is no clear evidence that disposable face masks worn by members of the surgical team would reduce the risk of wound infections after clean surgical procedures.
For healthcare workers, safety guidelines recommend the wearing of a face-fit tested N95 or FFP3 respirator mask instead of a surgical mask in the vicinity of pandemic-flu patients, to reduce the exposure of the wearer to potentially infectious aerosols and airborne liquid droplets.
In community and home settings, the use of facemasks and respirators generally are not recommended, with other measures preferred such as avoiding close contact and maintaining good hand hygiene.
Surgical masks are popularly worn by the general public all year round in East Asian countries like China, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan to reduce the chance of spreading airborne diseases to others, and to prevent the breathing in of airborne dust particles created by air pollution.
In Japan and Taiwan, it is common to see these masks worn during the flu season, as a show of consideration for others and social responsibility. Surgical masks provide some protection against the spread of diseases, and improvised masks provide about half as much protection. Some countries like Slovakia and Czech Republic introduced mandatory masks in public transport and public spaces during the coronavirus pandemic in 2020.
More recently, due to the rising issue of smog in South and Southeast Asia, surgical masks and air filtering face masks are now frequently used in major cities in India, Nepal and Thailand when air quality deteriorates to toxic levels. Additionally, face masks are used in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore during the Southeast Asian haze season.
Additionally, surgical masks have become a fashion statement, particularly in contemporary East Asian culture bolstered by its popularity in Japanese and Korean pop culture which have a big impact on East Asian youth culture. Air filtering surgical-style masks are quite popular across Asia and as a result, many companies have released masks that not only prevent the breathing in of airborne dust particles but are also fashionable.
Surgical masks may also be worn to conceal identity. In the United States banks, convenience stores, etc. have banned their use as a result of criminals repeatedly doing so. In the 2019–20 Hong Kong protests, some protestors wore surgical masks amongst other types of mask to avoid recognition, and the government tried to ban such use.
In the United States, surgical masks are cleared for marketing by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. As of 2009, manufacturers of surgical masks must demonstrate that their product is at least as good as a mask already on the market to obtain “clearance” for marketing. Manufacturers may choose from filter tests using a biological organism aerosol, or an aerosol of 0.1 µm latex spheres.
Unless otherwise specified, the term "facemasks" refers to disposable facemasks cleared by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use as medical devices. This includes facemasks labeled as surgical, dental, medical procedure, isolation, or laser masks... Facemasks should be used once and then thrown away in the trash.
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