Skip to content

    Cold, Flu, & Cough Health Center

    Font Size
    A
    A
    A

    Best Swine Flu Face Mask: N95 Respirator

    Study Shows Ordinary Surgical Masks Do Not Protect Health Care Workers From Cold, Flu Viruses
    By
    WebMD Health News
    Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

    Editor's note: In November 2009, the researchers retracted the findings of this study.

    Swine Flu Outbreak: Get the Facts

    Swine Flu Slideshow

    Learn more about the H1N1 swine flu and see what you can do to stay healthy.

    View the slideshow.

    Sept. 16, 2009 (San Francisco) -- If you're going to buy a face mask to protect yourself against H1N1 swine flu, you might want to invest in an N95 respirator mask.

    So suggests a new study showing that ordinary disposable surgical masks did not protect health care workers from infection with the flu or other viral infections. N95 masks, on the other hand, offered significant protection against flu infection.

    Since the average person is not exposed to as many bugs as health care workers, "surgical masks might be OK in the community setting. But N95 masks would be better," says study researcher Raina MacIntyre, MD, PhD, professor of infectious diseases epidemiology at the University of South Wales in Sydney, Australia.

    While more expensive, N95 respirator masks fit more tightly around the mouth and nose than ordinary surgical masks. When fitted correctly, they filter out 95% of small particles, although this isn't easy to do in the home setting.

    N95 masks should be the standard protection offered to health care workers, MacIntyre tells WebMD. "Surgical masks have no efficacy in the health care setting."

    MacIntyre's study was presented at the annual Interscience Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy.

    It comes on the heels of a recent Institute of Medicine report that recommends that health care workers should use N95 respirators that are individually fit-tested.

    Comparing Face Masks

    The new study involved 1,936 health care workers at 24 hospitals in Beijing. Most participants were randomly assigned to wear surgical masks, fit-tested N95 masks, or N95 masks that were not fit-tested.

    "They wore the masks for every shift for four weeks during [last year's] cold and flu season," MacIntyre says.

    There was also a comparison group composed of hospitals workers who had the option of wearing no masks or surgical masks. "In China, many workers find wearing no masks unacceptable, so we picked [the comparison group] from hospitals where masks are least likely to be used," she explains.

    During the four weeks of the study, the researchers tracked how many people developed infectious diseases. Anyone with symptoms was tested for viral and bacterial pathogens.

    Today on WebMD

    hot toddy
    15 tips to help you feel better.
    man sneezing into elbow
    Do echinacea and vitamin C really help a cold?
     
    teen girl coughing
    Get a good night’s rest with these remedies.
    elder berry
    Eat these to fight colds, flu, and more.
     
    Natural Cold Flu Remedies Slideshow
    Slideshow
    cold weather
    VIDEO
     
    Allergy And Sinus Symptom Evaluator
    Article
    Boy holding ear
    Slideshow
     
    woman receiving vaccine shot
    Article
    woman with fever
    Article
     
    Waking up from sleep
    Article
    woman with sore throat
    Slideshow