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Swine flu: Are you wearing the right mask?

Last updated on: August 11, 2009 

Swine flu: Are you wearing the right mask?

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If you thought that a simple surgical mask will protect you from being infected by swine flu virus, you were wrong.

The Centre for Disease Control, United States, and doctors in Washington recommend use of N95 respirators for protection.

This they recommend both for the infected person and to those who get exposed to virus during their visits to hospitals and other places.


Image: The N95 respirator
Photographs: Courtesy northernsafety.com
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"The surgical mask (the green coloured mask) does not guarantee protection. It is the N95 respirator, which will do the actual work. And people who visit hospitals and infected areas should adopt this. It should not be limited to treating doctors and patients only," one of the doctors at AIIMS said.

As of now, at the entry points of the airports, suspected cases are given a three layered mask till final test results prove positive.

The Drug Controller General of India Dr Surender Singh said 'ideally N95 is the best but since it costs more, the three layered is given. While the former costs around Rs 300 the latter is available for a mere Rs 10.'

Image: A hospital worker models a biohazard suit, safety goggles and a mask in San Salvador
Photographs: Luis Galdamez/Reuters
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Another doctor said "a respirator is designed to protect you from breathing in very small particles, which might contain viruses. This type of respirators fit tightly to the face so that most air is inhaled through the filter."

"If given N95, the probabilities of spreading the virus come down. Instead of spending Rs 10,000 for testing flu of each suspected case, a mere Rs 300 will prove more effective," he said.

There are different forms of surgery mask, which are not designed to filter the virus.


Image: A man wears a protective mask while waiting for a health check at a hospital in Hanoi
Photographs: Huy Kham/Reuters
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Meanwhile, the Maharashtra government has advised people not to use disposable masks as its improper disposal could lead to spread of H1N1 virus.

Instead, public has been asked to use handkerchief as a protective gear to prevent swine flu infection.

"The disposable N-95 masks should be used only by the medical, paramedical and hospital staff and nurses as they would be strictly disposed as biomedical waste," Health Secretary Sharvaree Gokhale told media persons.

The public should not use the disposable masks, as there is no provision for biomedical waste in the general solid disposal system, she said.

Image: People wearing masks wait to get tested for H1N1 influenza at a special ward in Kasturba Hospital
Photographs: Punit Paranjpe/Reuters
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"If they use disposable masks indiscriminately and throw them around, the entire purpose will be defeated as the air-borne virus is likely to spread more."

"It is advised to use a gent's handkerchief folded a few times or a home made washable mask to cover the nose and mouth when in a crowded place," Gokhale said.

The government has instructed the pharmacies and drugstores not to sell disposable masks without prescription. Asked about the government's instructions for the forthcoming festival season when people gather in large numbers, she said people should avoid going to crowded places and coming in contact with suspected H1N1 cases.


Image: People wearing surgical masks wait for a H1N1 flu screening at Ram Manohar Lohia hospital in New Delhi
Photographs: Fayaz Kabli/Reuters
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