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Bird flu masks

There are several different types of masks that have been recommended by various agencies to help prevent the spread of a bird flu virus. More commonly, disposable repirator masks are recommended because of the fact that they can be carefully and safely discarded after being worn in a contaminated environment.

The other option are re-usable masks which are more robust tend offer and tighter fit on account of rubber/silicone sealing as well as adjustable straps. The draw back with re-usable respirators is the fact there is a risk that the mask can become a vessel for the bird flu virus if it is brought back into the wearer's safe area and not properly disinfected.

Masks should be fit-tested and the wearer should know how to check the face-piece to face seal. Those who cannot wear a disposable particulate respirator because of facial hair or other fit limitations should wear a loose-fitting (i.e., helmeted or hooded) powered air purifying respirator equipped with high-efficiency filters.

Types of disposable respirator

In the USA, the production of disposable respirators is regulated by the National Institute for Safety and Health (NIOSH). There are two main NIOSH approved mask types that are currently marketed for protection against bird flu. These are the NIOSH 95 and NIOSH 99 masks. In Europe it is the European Union that regulates the sale of disposable masks and the two masks generally recommended for bird flu are the FFP2 and FFP3 types.

In both cases the differences between the two masks boils down to the size of particle that the respirator can filter out. However no disposable mask offers 100% protection against fine particles such as virus particles, so their use needs to be undertaken with a certain degree of care.

In order for a disposable respirator to be worn comfortably for a medium length of time it is generally accepted that a valve should be present. Bird flu masks without valves are not going to be very comfortable should you be wearing it on a hot and stuffy bus or a train on your way to work. This is particularly true of FFP3 respirators which are quite a bit thicker than the FFP2 type and as a result the majority of FFP3 masks are designed with a valve.

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