Surgical masks vs respirators for the protection against coronavirus infection: state of the art

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Tommaso Violante
Francesco Saverio Violante


surgical masks; N95 respirators; airborne infections


Background: During the Covid-19 outbreak, a recurrent subject in scientific literature has been brought back: whether surgical masks are a sufficient protection against airborne infections like Covid-19.Objectives: The objective is to find out if surgical masks are a sufficient tool for the prevention of infections caused by viruses that are transmitted by the respiratory tract or if other respiratory protective devices, like N95 respirators, would be more effective. Methods: The relevant scientific literature was identified by querying the PubMed database with a combination of the following terms: "(surgical mask *) AND (N95 OR FFP2 OR FFP3)". Of all the 144 articles found, 6 systematic reviews were selected and examined.Results: The currently available scientific evidence suggests that surgical masks and N95 respirators/FFP2 confer an equivalent degree of protection against airborne viral infections.Discussion: Since surgical masks are less expensive than N95 respirators but as effective in protecting against airborne infection and also more comfortable, requiring less respiratory work, they should be preferred as a protective device for health care workers and for workers who carry out non-medical jobs



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