Answered: 4 Questions about Flu Masks

March 6, 2020

Clinical Contributors to this Story

Jerry Zuckerman, M.D. contributes to topics such as Infection Control.

You’ve likely seen the pictures and videos all over the news and social media. Even the hashtag, #flumask has gained international attention with mask-wearers proudly posting their pictures.

But you may be wondering – do flu masks really work? Should you get a supply?

We talked with Jerry Zuckerman, M.D., vice president of infection protection and control at Hackensack Meridian Health about some of the most common questions about respirators and their use.

1. Should I wear a flu mask or N95 mask in public?

While masks may be a good idea for some, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does not recommend the routine use of masks outside of workplace settings in the community.

N95 masks are designed to be fitted to the wearer in order to provide the proper protection. Many people wear a mask that isn’t properly fitted and through continually adjusting the mask, expose themselves to germs.

Disposable surgical masks are also not recommended for people unless they’re sick or caring for someone who is ill. Most often, respiratory viruses spread from person-to-person with close contact (within 6 feet).

The CDC does recommend that everyone take normal preventative actions to prevent the spread of viruses. This includes:

  • Stay away from people who are sick
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue
  • Stay home if you are sick and do not go into crowded public areas
  • Wash your hands regularly

2. What is an N95 filtering facepiece respirator (mask)?

An N95 respirator is a type of facemask that removes particles from the air that are breathed through it. The “N95” designation means that these respirators filter out at least 95% of very small (0.3 micron) test particles. N95 respirators are capable of filtering out a number of types of particles, including bacteria and viruses.

3. What makes N95 respirators different from other facemasks (flu or surgical masks)?

difference between surgical mask and N95 respirator
Source: CDC

4. Who should wear a mask?

The CDC recommends wearing an N95 mask only for health care professionals who are treating patients suspected of having a respiratory virus and need protection from both airborne and fluid hazards. Flu/facemasks should be worn by patients suspected of being infected with a respiratory virus to prevent contamination of the surrounding area when that patient coughs or sneezes.

“Wearing a facemask won’t magically protect you from getting sick, but it can help those who are sick from spreading illness,” says Dr. Zuckerman.

Next steps?

The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.