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Respiratory protection is a form of solidarity and protection against infection for society

Since a general mask requirement for shopping and public transport was introduced in Germany, the discussion about the importance of respiratory masks has been rekindled. Self-made masks are sometimes sold at horrendous prices, medical masks are in short supply and incorrect information circulates in large quantities online and offline. The fear of Covid 19 is great, because a lot of reliable information about the virus and the risk groups is not yet available. But how does a respirator mask protect the wearer and his surroundings from infection? What types of masks are there and how do they differ? And how is the wearing of masks likely to affect the development of this pandemic? We sort fact and fake for you.

Only medical protection is effective

It is true that only properly worn medical mouth and nose protection is effective. To confirm the effectiveness of such mouth-nose protection, the manufacturers work under certain conditions and use special nonwovens that can stop bacteria and viruses. This measure is particularly important for the FFP2 and FFP3 masks used in intensive care, in order to keep the risk of infection for medical personnel low. Recently, however, increased trade in counterfeit products was found and politicians agree that the masks of the FFP2 and FFP3 class should be reserved for staff in hospitals, doctor's offices and retirement homes. The surgical protection, which is currently worn by many people, primarily protects the person opposite from infection, but not the wearer of the respiratory protection.

Does it make any sense to wear such a mask in everyday life? Yes it is! When sneezing and coughing, droplets and the viruses and bacteria they contain are thrown into the environment at high speed. The droplets fly up to a meter and a half around the person. If people are there, as is easily the case in many public places, the virus can be spread to other people's mucous membranes via a smear infection. This happens when a person touches himself in the face. Experts also suspect that the corona virus can spread in the air in a kind of cloud in enclosed spaces in such a way that it can be inhaled and infectious by other people. With a simple surgical protection, the coarse particles, i.e. droplets that a person coughs or sneezes, are stopped. The spread of the virus is thus slowed down. In combination with the minimum distance from other people in public space recommended by the government and the Robert Koch Institute, this results in a high level of protection for the general public. So if you wear such surgical protection, you protect all people in your area from being infected if you should be affected yourself. Due to the long incubation period of the corona virus and the sometimes extremely mild, almost symptom-free courses, you can already be infectious without feeling sick.

But it is also true that the risk of infection for everyone is drastically reduced only if all people participate and wear respiratory protection. You yourself are not protected from infection if you wear simple respiratory protection. So we rely on other people to protect us out of consideration and solidarity.

FFP2 and FFP3 safety masks have been used successfully in previous epidemics, such as the recent Ebola epidemic. They protect the medical personnel who have to work in direct contact with sick patients from being infected.

What types of masks are there and which is useful for whom?

In addition to the mouth-nose protection that doctors wear during operations to protect the patient from infections, there are FFP1, FFP2, FFP3 and the less well-known KN95 masks. FFP masks filter the air we breathe through the mask material and thus sort out particles. The class is determined depending on the fraction filtered out and the minimum size of the particles or aerosols filtered out. A mask according to the KN95 standard corresponds approximately to an FFP2 mask, thus protecting the wearer himself from being infected with viruses. The different designations only go back to the country-specific standards.

People who work in the medical or nursing field need a mask with a higher filter level, e.g. B. KN95, because they are exposed to an increased risk of infection. Risk patients also benefit from such a respirator. Due to the particularly dense material that also prevents viruses, breathing is very difficult for long periods of time. These masks are not very comfortable for everyday use. FFP masks are also hardly available at the moment. It looks better with KN95 masks. However, prices have increased significantly since the pandemic increased demand. A simple respirator that can be worn when shopping or in other public areas is sufficient for all people who are not among the risk groups.


How must the mask be worn and treated to be effective?

Particular attention should be paid to the correct fit and handling of the mask. Due to the filtering properties of the mask, infectious viruses and bacteria stick to the mask. Once put on, the mask should on the one hand seal tightly, so that the breathing air is actually filtered through the mask instead of being directed past it. Otherwise, the high filter level is also of no use. In addition, the wearer should not touch the mask afterwards so that the pathogens are not on the hands and later, e.g. B. after removing the mask to be transported to the face. Moisturized masks must be replaced because they contain a large reservoir of germs that accumulate in them through frequent breathing in and out. In this case, saving on material is counterproductive. The disinfection of a mask in the microwave does not make sense either. The microwaves only heat the material unevenly and the heat generated depends on the type of material. It is therefore difficult to check whether the mask has become at least 70 ° C hot in all areas in the microwave and is therefore sterile again. Disinfection in the oven at 70 ° C is safer. In addition, after touching the worn mask, you should definitely disinfect your hands or wash them thoroughly with soap, so as not to bring the collected germs from the mask over your hands to your face or back onto the disinfected mask.

Cotton masks are currently being sewn and sold everywhere. However, cotton fabrics cannot replace medical respiratory protection or even a filtering half mask. Viruses are in the nanometer range, i.e. a millionth of a millimeter. However, the spaces in commercially available clothing fabrics are much larger. Therefore, self-sewn cotton masks are not recommended for use in hospitals, doctor's offices or in nursing. The use of filters from vacuum cleaner bags in the self-sewn masks also harbors the risk that respiratory substances that are present in the bag fleece are inhaled and cause damage to the body. We expressly warn against the use of vacuum cleaner bags. In order to protect the general public, an operating mask is recommended in case of doubt. Making masks yourself or making them out of household materials is an act born out of necessity that lulls us into false security. Such masks do not protect against infection, but collect germs that may be in the aerosol of our breathing air. If hygiene or handling is incorrect, the germs will spread unnecessarily. In addition, people who feel safe with a self-sewn mask tend to no longer maintain the recommended minimum distance from other people. Doctors agree that, above all, the distance we maintain from other people drastically curbs the spread of viruses.

In addition, the professional trade also offers reusable masks made of cotton. These masks consist of a specially treated super fiber that has an antibacterial effect and also slows down viruses. The masks can be disinfected by washing them in the cooking program. However, the same applies here too: the correct handling of the reusable material is crucial for its effectiveness. After wearing, the mask must be put in the laundry without touching the outside if possible. These masks are also an effective protection and can be used for normal consumers as well as for medical or nursing staff. The advantage here is that the resources used are conserved.

The spread of Covid 19, i.e. the disease caused by the new corona virus, can be significantly reduced by wearing a face mask in public. In addition, we must keep the minimum distance from other people wherever possible. It is now important for society to adopt these new habits to protect human lives and enable the health care system to adequately care for patients in need of treatment.

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