What is a Facemask?
Facemasks are loose-fitting, disposable masks that cover the nose and mouth. These include products labeled as surgical, dental, medical procedure, isolation, and laser masks.
Facemasks help stop droplets from being spread by the person wearing them. They also keep splashes or sprays from reaching the mouth and nose of the person wearing the facemask. They are not designed to protect you against breathing in very small particles. Facemasks should be used once and then thrown away in the trash.
What is a respirator?
A respirator (for example, an N95 or higher filtering facepiece respirator) is designed to protect you from breathing in very small particles, which might contain viruses. These types of respirators fit tightly to the face so that most air is inhaled through the filter material. To work the best way, N95 respirators must be specially fitted for each person who wears one (this is called "fit-testing" and is usually done in a workplace where respirators are used). They do not work for people with facial hair. Most of the time, N95 respirators are used in construction and other jobs that involve dust and small particles. Some healthcare workers, such as nurses and doctors, use these types of respirators when taking care of patients with diseases that can be spread through the air.
If you have a heart or lung disease or other health condition, you may have trouble breathing through respirators and you should talk with your doctor before using a respirator.
Like surgical masks, N95 respirators should be worn only once and then thrown away in the trash.
Neither a facemask nor a respirator will give complete protection from the flu. That is why it is important to wash your hands often, cover your coughs and sneezes with a handkerchief or your arm, and avoid crowds and gatherings during a pandemic. To learn more about these and other issues relating to pandemic influenza, visit www.pandemicflu.gov.
For interim recommendations for facemask and respirator use to reduce Novel Influenza A (H1N1) virus transmission, go to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website for interim guidance on the use of facemasks and respirators. Note: This guidance replaces other CDC guidance on mask and/or respirator use that may be included in other CDC documents in regards to the outbreak of novel H1N1 virus.
NOTE: The FDA has approved only (4) four face masks for use by the general public in case of health emergencies (such as the H1N1 Swine Flu pandemic). Click here for more information on these masks.
Below is an Autralian educational mask video noting that surgical masks are not effective for protecting against airborne flu. P2 or N95 masks are required.
Below is an Australian video on influenza respirator selection and fit testing for healthcare workers.