Which are the different types of facemasks and what are the differences?
Alongside so-called surgical masks, there are also FFP1, FFP2 and FFP3 masks, with and without valves. What are the differences between these three types of protective facemasks?
Surgical masks are medical devices that are used to protect ourselves and others. In fact, they block the propagation of droplets emitted orally when coughing and sneezing, or simply speaking. Nevertheless, they do not guarantee the blocking of the virus dispersed in aerosols as they are not leak-proof on the user’s face and do not have a filtering function during inhalation.
FP1, FFP2 and FFP3 masks stand out, first and foremost, for their filtering efficiency, which increases as per their number: FFP1 masks have a filtering capacity of 80%, FFP2 more than 94%, and FFP3, higher than 99%.
They also stand out for the presence or absence of the valve.
Facemasks without valves are Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) that protect those who use them and others, blocking the dispersion of the virus both both incoming and outgoing, since they are sealed on the face and are manufactured by means of a “welding” process so that there are no seams or perforations on the fabric through which micro-particles could pass. This is why these masks are generally used by doctors and health employees.
FFP1, FFP2 and FFP3 with valves, on the other hand, only protect the user, because they prevent the virus from entering, but do not block outgoing virus completely.
Masks must, however, be certified to guarantee the protection levels. Surgical masks, for example, are classed as MD (Medical Device) and are CE marked in accordance with European Regulation 2017/745 and EN 14683:2019 technical standard. FFP2 and FFP3 masks, on the other hand, are PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) and are CE marked in accordance with European Regulation 2016/425 and EN 149:2009 technical standard.
Can masks protect from all types of infection?
Masks cannot protect 100% against infection, and their use must always be in combination with social distancing and personal hygiene (wash your hands, do not touch your face and eyes, etc.) to reduce chances of infection.
How should masks be put on and taken off?
All masks, including surgical masks, must be worn covering both the nose and mouth. Wash your hands before putting the mask on and after having taken it off.
Respiratory protection devices must always be fitted on the face to ensure optimal hold, or their effectiveness will not be guaranteed.
When removing the mask, remember that the external surface of the mask and the hands (or gloves) can be contaminated by the virus. Special attention must therefore be paid when handling the mask itself, to avoid the risk of reinfecting or becoming infected. First and foremost, wash your hands thoroughly, then remove the masks using the elastic bands, trying to avoid touching the inside. Wash your hands again.
Hand-made masks and scarves - yes or no?
One of the two parameters used to define the level of protection and effectiveness of a facemask, along with respiratory resistance (that is, the user’s ease of breathing), is given by the filtering power, which is the ability of the material to filter particles of "matter” such as fumes, mists, particulates, micro-organisms, etc. of a defined size, measured as a percentage of the particles blocked by the material. This capacity cannot be carried out by hand-made head-squares or scarves such as those made of cotton, creating holes in the fabric when sewing them.
Fabric masks are, therefore, not considered medical devices of personal protective equipment and, therefore, cannot guarantee the protection of those who use them if they come into contact with virulent micro-particles, also due to the size of the weave of the fabric which does not have the required filtering power, one of the fundamental requirements of PPE.
Wearing a facemask that does not guarantee protection is likely to create a dramatic placebo effect and increase the risk because the wearer is convinced to be protected and, consequently, does not take precautions or attention, while, in reality, the wearer actually has no kind of barrier against the virus.