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N95 and N99 Face Masks Protect You From Pollution, But Coronavirus Too?

By: Vishal Mathur

Last Updated: January 31, 2020, 12:17 IST

Image for representation.

Image for representation.

A high-quality mask can be useful in keeping most viruses, pollutants and other airborne illnesses, from your lungs. It could also protect you from Coronavirus.

Pollution. Particles. Dust. And now deadly viruses. We really need to be a bit more careful about what we breathe. Unfortunately, it is mostly unseen, and that poses a perplexing problem. How do we keep the viruses, allergens, pollutants and dust out of our nose and respiratory systems? The simple answer is face masks. You may also know these as pollution masks or dust masks. Whatever the name, they all do the same thing—protect you from a lot of viruses and airborne pollutants by filtering out the air you breathe. With the deadly Coronavirus spreading around the world, travellers and indeed even citizens may want to stay protected. The need becomes even more urgent for a face mask, considering human to human transmission has been confirmed.

It is said that humans breathe in about 8 litres of air every day. The chances of all sorts of unwanted airborne particles and deadlier components entering our bodies, is quite high. The World Health Organization (WHO) have finally declared the ongoing Coronavirus outbreak a global health emergency. As per last reports 213 people have reportedly died in China and as many as 10,000 cases of Coronavirus infections are being treated. The WHO also confirmed that there have been 98 reported cases in 18 countries globally. Health officials in Chicago, US, have confirmed the first US case of human-to-human transmission of the Coronavirus. The situation is bad, since the efforts to curb the spread of the Coronavirus have not yielded results that were perhaps expected, but the virus is also spreading globally.

Buying a face mask isn’t easy though. There are a variety of options from a number of brands, all claiming to be the best at what they do. But not all may be equally effective in filtering out the bad air before you breathe it. But do these really work? “It can't hurt and it might help. Some studies have shown that using a surgical mask can help prevent influenza. And using a surgical mask and an alcohol-based hand sanitizer was shown to reduce the number of influenza-like illnesses in a group of students living in a college dormitory even more than using a surgical mask alone,” says James M. Steckelberg, M.D., Mayo Clinic.

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The Coronavirus is not exactly a flu, but it does have certain flu-like symptoms. The symptoms of the 2019-nCoV include runny nose, cough, sore throat and high temperature. It can also lead to pneumonia, an infection where the lungs fill up with fluid and can lead to death by ‘drowning’.

The Atlanta Healthcare Cambridge Admiral N99 (around Rs2,199; Atlantahealthcare.in) has been developed by the UK based Cambridge Mask Co., are available in three variants. There is no valve (best for regular activity outdoors), with one valve (for light exercises outdoors) and two valves (for intensive exercises or activity outdoors). For standard daily use, a no-valve option should suffice. The single- and dual-valve options help reduce moisture build-up inside the mask during intensive activity. These masks use military-grade filtration technology and protect you from dust, fuel-based contaminants, particulate matter, infectious pathogens, virus, bacteria, mold and spores as well as pollen. The activated carbon filter layer is developed by the UK’s Ministry of Defense and is designed to adsorb gaseous molecules. Available in multiple colours and patterns, and small, medium, large and XL sizes—important for someone who doesn’t want to compromise on fashion, even in these adverse times.

“You should wear a facemask when you are in the same room with other people and when you visit a healthcare provider. If you cannot wear a facemask, the people who live with you should wear one while they are in the same room with you,” says the Centres For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the US. For anyone who is caring for someone who is infected by the Coronavirus or lives in the same household, the CDC says, “Wear a disposable facemask, gown, and gloves when you touch or have contact with the person’s blood, body fluids and/or secretions, such as sweat, saliva, sputum, nasal mucus, vomit, urine, or diarrhea. Throw out disposable facemasks, gowns, and gloves after using them. Do not reuse. Wash your hands immediately after removing your facemask, gown, and gloves.”

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In China, the rush to buy masks has led to a situation where 3M, a leader maker of face masks, has run out of stocks at its factories and flagship stores in multiple locations in China, according to reports by Chinese news publication YiCai. It is not just masks, because the situation in China is terrifying. Reuters reported that rubber gloves, hand sanitizers and even thermometers are in short supply at most stores. Mask manufacturer Lanhine has told Reuters that they are getting requests for as many as 200 million masks every day, which is much higher than the 400000 masks that their factory can produce on a daily basis.

And it is not just China. The Straits Times reports that Singapore's Guardian pharmacy chain has seen sales of face masks quadruple in the past couple of weeks. The pharmacy has 115 stores in the country.

The Vogmask N99 (Around Rs2,000 onwards; NirvanaBeing.com) are available in micro-fibre and organic cotton variants, and offer multiple layers of filtration. Apart from the N99 filter, there is also the of coconut shell derived carbon. This is designed to filter particles as small as 0.3-microns and are also available as single valve or dual valve options.

But what about children? If you are traveling with children, it might be a good idea to but a pack of the Honeywell PM2.5 anti-pollution kids masks with special valve (Rs 699 for a pack of 6 masks; Amazon.in). These KN95 masks will protect your children from viruses. These masks are very light to wear as they are made of paper, and after some days of use, need to be disposed. There is a 3-layer filtration process, and this is ideal for someone who might need protection against the dust and fumes for non-strenuous activity outdoors—there are no valves like some of the higher end masks, which work better while running or jogging. Honeywell sells these in the icy blue and white colour options.