Ensure That Your Medical Face Mask is Providing You with Adequate Protection

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Ensure That Your Medical Face Mask is Providing You with Adequate Protection

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

By Reva Darling Goucher, Association Gloves

Selecting the proper face mask for your practice can be daunting. The myriad of options can make it difficult to know whether you are providing the level of protection required in your practice, at the best value. In 2003, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) made significant revisions to its infection control and prevention recommendations. This included the recommendation that masks and eye protection with side and face shields be worn to protect the membranes of the eyes, nose and mouth during procedures likely to produce a spray of blood or other body fluids. The masks should protect against microorganisms with a bacterial filtration of greater than 95 percent.

Exam masks are regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This provides a level of quality control to the end product. Manufacturers, however, can voluntarily choose to become certified by the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM). ASTM is an international standards organization that develops and publishes voluntary consensus technical standards for a wide range of materials, products, systems, and services. More than 13,000 ASTM standards are used worldwide to improve product quality, enhance safety and facilitate trade. The ASTM Certification Program covers products for industries that desire an independent third-party demonstration of compliance to standards and/or are facing regulatory pressures to prove compliance to standards. The ASTM test methods for face masks are vigorous and thorough, ensuring that the ASTM-rated mask you select offers the appropriate level of protection for the application.

ASTM Test Methods include the measurement of:

  • Bacterial Filtration Efficiency (BFE ) -- the filtration efficiency by percent of a face mask using viable (live) bacterial cells from one to five microns in size. The higher the percentage, the more the mask blocks the passage of bacteria.
  • Particulate Filtration Efficiency (PFE) -- the percent efficiency at which a face mask filters particulate (nonviable particles) matter passing through; particles range in size from 0.1 to one micron.
  • Delta P, AP, Breathability -- the difference of air pressure on both sides of the mask and the effort it takes to force air through the mask. A mask with a low Delta P is more comfortable and breathable than a mask with a higher Delta P. Breathability is not the determining factor in which mask to use.
  • Fluid Resistance -- defined as the ability of a face mask's construction to minimize fluid passing through the material and potentially coming into contact with the user. The masks are challenged with synthetic blood at increasing levels of pressure. Masks that withstand greater pressure have more fluid spray and splash resistance.
  • Flammability -- masks are exposed to flame and measured for the rate at which the material burns, determining flammability.

To know whether your current face mask is ASTM-certified and provides adequate protection, simply look at the package. The current ASTM F2100-11 standard requires that a graphic be displayed on the box, signifying the mask performance level. The new standard also changed mask classifications from a performance scale of low, medium or high to levels 1, 2 or 3. Ratings are assigned based upon the outcomes from the test methods above. A level 1 mask provides less protection than a level 3 mask.

In addition to selecting a mask with high filtering efficiency, a mask must fit well. Due to an ill-fitting mask, some exhaled air can escape it, resulting in lower in-use BFE and PFE values. In order to accommodate the varying sizes and shapes of medical staff, more than one type of mask at all necessary levels should be provided for your practice's employees.

The CDC recommends that a fresh face mask be used with every patient order to prevent the cross-contamination from infectious materials. Additionally, a wet mask has diminished protective properties and should be changed during patient treatment.

The Michigan State Medical Society's glove program, administered by Association Gloves, offers ASTM-rated Halyard Health masks in levels 1, 2 and 3, with and without visors for eye protection. Many have soft inner linings to minimize skin irritation. Also available are EcoBee 2100 level 2 face masks for only $29 per case of 400 masks. Ear loop and ties masks are available. When you buy a case of Halyard Health masks you and get two boxes free. In addition to masks, the MSMS glove program offers more than 90 exam gloves including sterile and surgical gloves, all at prices that are extremely competitive. And shipping is always free.

For more information and to order or request free glove and mask samples, call Association Gloves at 877-484-6149 or shop securely online at www.msmsgloves.com.

Reva Darling Goucher is Marketing Manager for Association Gloves, wholly owned by the Michigan Dental Association, focused on meeting the examination glove needs of health care professionals across the United States. We have been providing quality, brand-name, value-priced gloves to association members since 2007.