Surgical masks, or what medical practitioners refer to as antimicrobial masks, found their way into the operating rooms in the late 1800s. They quickly gained their popularity with the public during the 1918 influenza pandemic. A century later, advances in molecular techniques confirmed that these masks can actually provide good protection against different strains of flu.
According to a 2013 study, researchers counted the concentration of virus particles in the air surrounding flu patients and established that the use of antimicrobial masks reduced the exhalation of large viral droplets by up to 25-fold. However, the masks were less effective in protecting against fine viral droplets that are more infectious, cutting by 3-fold.
Antimicrobial masks also offer good protection for the worried lot. Studies established that these masks were as effective, or nearly as effective, at protecting users against flu as respirators.
So how do antimicrobial masks work?
Since face masks can trap moisture and offer a large surface area, they tend to be excellent grounds for microbial growth. This is why antimicrobial masks were invented – to prevent microbes from colonizing the surface of the masks.
There are different types of fabrics used for the production of antimicrobial masks, and they all work in different ways. Most surgical masks come with antimicrobial agents infused within the fabric’s fibers. Others come with antimicrobial coating on the fabric’s surface.
Within these two types of fabrics, various antimicrobial agents can be used, such as metallic salts. The effective of the antimicrobial mask largely depends on the agent it uses to destroy microbes that come into contact with it.
Should you wear face masks made of antimicrobial fabrics?
There are certain considerations you need to keep in mind when deciding whether or not to wear masks made from antimicrobial agents. First off, it is important to mention that most microbe-fighting agents used in these face masks are safe. However, there are some, like triclodan, that can be harmful. The FDA does not regulate textile products; therefore, it is possible that these harmful antimicrobial agents can still find their way into the fabrics used in the production of face masks.
Thus, if you stay away from unsafe agents, it makes sense opting for masks made from antimicrobial fabrics over those made from ordinary garments. As already mentioned, public health experts now believe that wearing masks made from antimicrobial fabrics can help protect you from contracting Coronavirus.
However, it is important to mention that wearing an antimicrobial mask or clothing will not completely prevent the virus from inhabiting your clothing. Yes, it might reduce your chances of contracting the virus, but it likely will not give you 100 percent protection from the virus, especially if you are exposed to an infected person.
What you need to know before buying or making your own mask
With the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendation that people wear face masks in public places to help lower the spread of Covid-19, most people are buying or making their own masks. However, before buying or making your own mask, it is important to understand that not all fabrics are effective for making face masks.
Here are three things you should know about materials used for making face masks.
Some fabrics are more effective at preventing the spread of the virus than others
Different fabrics have different sized-spacing between their yarns. Some fabrics have larger gaps, or “holes,” than others and this can affect their effectiveness in preventing the spread of the virus. The smaller the gaps, the less likely the virus will pass through the mask. Fabrics like canvas tend to have smaller gaps and thus make for better mask materials.
Tightly woven fabrics offer better protection
Tightly woven fabrics have the smallest gaps and this increases the chance of protection. Several studies have established that tea towels offer better protection. Thus, when purchasing or making your own mask, be sure to look for tightly woven fabric.
While filters are effective, they can pose a safety risk
While most commercially produced masks come with additional pockets for a filter, they can potentially do more harm than good. Some types of household filters contain fiberglass that can be dangerous when inhaled. Some of the examples of mask filters include air filters, vacuum bags, unscented dry baby wipes, and coffee filters. When you decide to use a filter, ensure that it is sandwiched between the fabric layers to minimize inhalation of the fibers.
In order to contain the spread of the novel Coronavirus, the CDC recommends the wearing of facial masks in public places. This is especially important in settings like grocery stores, public transportation, and pharmacies where social distancing is not possible. The right mask works by blocking virus-laden droplets’ transmission from infected people. Remember, if you can block the droplets, you can substantially reduce the risk of infection.