Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Wearing the N95 face mask

Gather 'round the camp fire, folks.
It was just yesterday that I posted abut the “must have” items, and added a couple “Not so distant Future “must haves”: hand sanitizer and N95 face mask.
Well guys… turns out that for me that distant future was today.
Swine flu is spreading at an alarming rate here in Buenos Aires. You didn’t need a rocket scientist to figure that out: Populated city, fairly popular tourist destination combined with non existent public health plan will do that.
We went from 10 to 100 cases in a day, and from that... who knows? Remember that Argentina is the land of misinformation, which is our government’s most powerful tool. All we know is that the number are going up exponentially and that 25 schools in Buenos Aires have closed so far.
So I’m driving to the Buenos Aires University today when I hear on the radio: Due to reports of Swine flu in the University of Buenos Aires, authorities are considering closing up the campus. An Architect teacher is infected and the class she teaches was suspended, her classroom is kept closed”
I still had to go, but since I had a N95 mask in my bag I decided to use it as an extra preventive measure. Given the amount of flu and other bugs flying around, it sure was a good idea, why take the risk?
Inside the ruined building ( yes, it truly is ruined, broken and dirty) everyone seemed to be sick, of course it’s flu season and everyone is sick, but the mask was comforting.
A total of two persons asked about the mask. One was another teacher that had a bit more information about what had happened.
Apparently the teacher that got sick got infected by a student that had traveled to Mexico not long ago, she said that I shouldn’t bother with the mask since chances of getting sick aren’t that big.
Another kid asked if the mask was due to me being sick or because of everyone else. I told him it was others I was worried about, I was perfectly fine. He told me he was sick himself , and so was ½ the people sitting around us, all coughing and visibly sending spit to the air in spite of their efforts to control it.
I bet more than a couple wished they had a mask themselves.
SO I’m feeling pretty dorky by now. I didn’t look around much, but I did hear people around me answering calls from worried relatives, wondering how things were inside the university, given the news of the swine flu being spread there and the possibility of closing the campus.
As I exit the building, I see an improvised billboard, several students and teachers gathered around it, moving their heads in denial, touching their faces with concern and a few “you’ve got to be kidding me” comments.
Keeping it short but using most of the words written there, the billboard read:
“FADU authorities are worried about the spreading of swine flu in ciudad Universitaria (campus). We’ve contacted medical experts and they told us that anyone feeling sick should go to a hospital and get checked by a doctor.
The university lacks the supplies needed for the minimum amount of maintenance and hygiene in bathrooms and school grounds in general.”

I felt a bit less like a dork for wearing a mask after reading that. Got into my car and left.
Do what you feel you should do and don’t give a damn about what other’s may think. That’s what I learned today. Oh! And if you are in a crowded place where swine flu is spreading, don’t be shy and wear a mask.
Also, if you’re planning on getting one to keep handy in your bag, get the one with a valve(3M rated N95), it helps when running up and down stairs and breathing a bit more heavily. The air goes out through the valve a bit faster, and that helps.

People in a Mexico Subway


Anonymous said...

Hi Ferfal,

Any mask is better than no mask, and may stop the flu as well as an n95 mask, according to this:


Ilya said...

But this mask does not protect YOU.
It protect others from you.
It has very good protection, but it created to protect patient from surgeon breath.
Possibly, I'm not right, but my common sense tells me -- if it is not airtight -- you can inhale germs.

Good against dust, but not against biohazard.

Blackthorn D. Stick said...

Here's an interesting link you might want to check out.

Anonymous said...

I have no problem with someone wearing a mask if it makes them feel more secure. I am a courier in a medium sized U.S. city. I am in and out of offices all day long and people do not practice good hygiene. If the flu flares back up later this year or next I will be wearing one myself.

Don Williams said...

Ferfal, I've been busy researching Swine Flu here in USA. Some points:

a) Our Center for Disease Control does recommend use of the N95, especially if you are in a High Risk group (e.g diabetes) and taking care of a sick relative. Best measure is to not get within 6 feet of a sick person but people can be infectious for a day or so (and transmitting flu virus) before they show noticeable symptoms. So you can't tell if that guy sitting next to you on the bus is sick.

b)However, the N95s are meant to be disposable. They filter out the small droplets created by sneezes and on which the flu viruses reside. However the flu virus itself is much smaller. I've seen reports suggesting that the N95 mask can become waterlogged (from moisture in the breath) and hence become permeable to flu viruses that have been caught on the outer surface. Obviously how soon this happens depends upon how much you are exhaling (heavy exercise vice resting) but some reports suggest they are not good for more than 2-3 hours. Also, one study concluded that there is no way to sterilize them without destroying the fine inner fibers that filter out the small items.

c) So you need a lot of N95 masks -- care of a sick relative over a week long bout would use up about 20 of them. I estimate about 100 per person would be needed for the entire flu season.

d) However, The MEDICAL N95s here in the USA disappeared quickly -- shortly after the swine flu appeared I went to 14 drug stores and found that they were all sold out. They are also very expensive ($4 per mask). However, CDC indicates that the N95
masks used in construction trades (available in paint stores, hardware stores,etc. and used while painting or sanding ) can be used as well.

e) The Medical N95 (blue colored here in USA) seems to simply have a stronger outside surface to resist drenching by body fluids (e.g, spray of blood). If you are not a surgeon or nurse inserting catheters into people, it appears that you can probably get by with the construction N95 --which is available in far greater quantities and is cheaper ($1 per mask).

f) The valve you mentioned allows easier breathing and would probably delay the mask becoming soaked with exhaled moisture. However, it costs twice as much.

g) You may also want some of the common "procedure masks" worn by doctors, dentists,etc. -- for sick relatives to wear so that they do not emit so many viruses into the air. However, they may not be able to breathe with such masks as they get sicker.

h) Note that CDC's recommendations are based upon the judgment of doctors and scientists and are based upon past experience in dealing with far more infectious diseases (measles, Tuberculosis,etc.). To my knowledge, There have not been extensive scientific tests yet of the N95's resistance to flu.

i) However, many of the US news reports that "N95 is not effective" goes counter to the CDC's recommendation. I think those news stories were put out by politicans who were panic-stricken that the US public was about to realize that the government did NOT have the 7 billion or so masks needed to protect them if the flu continued explosive growth into the USA summer season.

j) CDC recommendation is at
http://www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu/masks.htm . Note that proper fit to get an airtight seal is essential (no beard).

Jedi said...

If anyone is interested in buying the real deal, here's a good one from a great company:


If you think people will look at you funny wearing an n95 mask, try wearing this thing in public. Oh well. If you ever really need it, I doubt you'll care.

Don Williams said...

Some more info on N95 masks from US Food and Drug Administration (regulates use of medicines and medical equipment) and US government
(Links pointed to by US CDC)



again, the PRIMARY recommendation is to avoid contact with people. But obviously that is not always feasible.

Don Williams said...

Note that guidance to Healthcare workers caring for flu patients is to wear eye protection (goggles) and wash hands as well. It appears that flu can be contracted by viruses touching the wet membrane of the eyes --either by an infected hand rubbing them or from the air.

washing the hands removes flu viruses from the hand that might be transferred to the eyes, nose or throat.

See http://www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu/guidelines_infection_control.htm

Don Williams said...

This web site tracks the number of flu cases around the world. Note that it gets data from health care sources and may not be fully up to date.

However, what I saw here in the USA shows up on the map as well: the flu clusters -- some places have a lot of cases and places have little. For example much of Argentina's countryside appears to still be free of the flu.

We saw that in USA as well --some places had lots of cases and other places had few or none. Most US outbreaks , other than Chicago , occurred along our southern border at major ingress point for illegal
immigrants from Mexico (Arizona, southern California )


Looks like Chile has lots of cases -- some will filter into Argentina even if you ban visitors from USA and Mexico from entering Argentina.

Anonymous said...

I live hard up against the U.S. / Mexico border and remember a couple of weeks ago when Swine Flu was in headlines, some criminals were using the masks as an excuse to blend into the background. That is, once they committed a crime, they would flee into the population, into a crowd of masked people as well. Complicated - very complicated.