This article will touch upon specifically our take on the utility of face mask for protecting us against the current coronavirus outbreak. Before we jump into this particular outbreak, we need to understand that coronavirus family based viral infections are not totally new with one notable outbreak being the MERS outbreak in the recent times. 

For that matter, common cold that we usually get is due to different types of coronavirus. There are four common types of cold causing coronaviruses with humans being the primary host for these four types. We will be presenting a more detailed article on coronaviruses in the near future in our health-o-health section.

Coming to the topic of face mask, to get a better understanding of the capabilities of face masks and respirators sold in the marketplace and its real worth, we need to ask the question how big are these viruses and what is the particle screening ability of the commonly sold face masks in the market place.

We will also answer the question whether there is any other value in utilizing the commonly sold face masks.

1. Let us start with the question, how big are the viruses in terms of particle size?
Viruses in general span in size from 20 - 400 nanometers (nm), which is around 0.02 to 0.4 microns. 

2. When we specifically look at the size of coronaviruses, 
the size spans from 0.06 to 0.14 microns, whereas the best and original N95 respirators has a screening ability for particle size of 0.3 microns or higher

Taking these numbers into account, it appears doubtful that we would be able to get significant protection from wearing even the best of face masks. 

Furthermore, many of the chronic viral infections impacts respiratory functions, and blocking air passage through the nostrils could impact oxygen intake, especially when having chronic respiratory complications.


Adolf Mayer (Agricultural Chemist): 
First person to show that a disease (tobacco mosaic disease) was infectious and could be caused by a toxin (1876).

Chamberland (Microbiologist):
Invented a filter that had pores smaller than that of the size of a bacteria (1884).

Dmitry Ivanovsky (Biologist): 
Utilized the Chamberland filter to show that crushed leaf extracts from infectious plants remain infectious even after filtration (1892).

Martinus Beijerinck (Microbiolgist):
Reproduced Adolf Mayer's experiment and named the new form of infectious agent as contagium vivum fluidum, which means soluble living germ (1898) - considered the founder of the scientific disciple, Virology.

Virus (Etymology and Current meaning):
The word, Virus, comes from the latin word, which means 'slimy liquid, poison'. Martinus Beijerinck who named the word for the first time, had assumed that viruses were liquid in nature, which was later found to be not the case.

Current Meaning:
"Virus, an infectious agent of small size and simple composition that can multiply only in living cells of animals, plants, or bacteria" (Britannica).

Please note that the above-mentioned scientists, along with other virologists over the years were primarily researchers (research doctors). 


Does it mean respirators in itself is not valuable for protecting against air-borne viral outbreak?
No, there are specific respirators with better particle size screening ability available, but those might not be a viable option as an offering for common masses.

If N95 respirator itself offers a protection only for particles of at least 0.3 microns or higher in size, how about other face masks?
Research does not support the use of commonly available face masks to provide protection for particles of sizes of coronavirus as seen in the recent outbreak.

Here is a table from 3M product bulletin that presents the particle size filtering ability of common types of respirators and face masks. 

If this is the reality of the face masks and respirators, would wearing commonly sold face masks serve any purpose?
Going by the balloon effect in the spread of rumors that we had shared earlier, especially during these social media times, we are in a world where everyone becomes a research doctor and/or physician. Taking that fact into account, combined with human psychology that plays an important role in aggravating health complications, wearing a mask while seeing others doing the same might help on the psychological front, though we need to understand that promoting products that really does not serve much purpose for an expanding issue in hand might cause undue burden on the supply chain and resource management, while distracting our focus away from the primary target, which in this case is to resolve the spread of the epidemic around the globe. 

Moreover, and most importantly, this distraction and anxiety could cause distraction on other fronts such as, electing right leaders to lead countries and organizations.

What is the meaning of the term N95?
Any respirator or mask with this certification should have the ability to filter 95% of the particles with particle size 0.3 microns or above.

"The N95 is made by various manufacturers under different names, from MSA's "Affinity Foldable Respirator" to 3M's "Particulate Respirator." Look for "NIOSH N95" on the package; the "N95" is a government efficiency rating that means the mask blocks about 95 percent of particles that are 0.3 microns in size or larger."
Source: N95 Definition UCLA 

"An N95 respirator is a respiratory protective device designed to achieve a very close facial fit and very efficient filtration of airborne particles. The 'N95' designation means that when subjected to careful testing, the respirator blocks at least 95 percent of very small (0.3 micron) test particles."

What could be the advantage of utilizing commonly available face masks then?
It could prevent germs spreading around when we sneeze or cough, though we need to ask the question whether using our hands to cover while sneezing and coughing would address the same as the number of healthy individuals could significantly outweigh the number of infected. Moreover, as mentioned above, we have to be careful considering the fact that wearing respirators and face masks could limit us from breathing in sufficient levels of oxygen, while adding anxiety at times.

How about personal experience?
Our founder went through ERT (Emergency Response Team) training as part of his role in an energy company years ago and had experienced wearing different types of respirators and masks during training in a simulated environment. During one such training period, our founder had to wear self contained breathing apparatus (SCBA), somewhat similar to those usually worn by firefighters, and experienced shortness of breath while going through the work out in not so easily reachable areas. Though this simulated environment is not in anyway comparable to respiratory complications that could come with viral infections, this example is being shared to use prudence of shortness of breath that could come with adding an uncommon gadget in the face.

This is also the time that we feel the need to take time to salute hard-working firefighters working around the globe.

This analysis is presented based on registered and reputed data recorded across the globe. Considering the delicate nature of the topic in discussion, it is important for each one of us to be careful and be thorough in our understanding prior to sharing information on the web. Please also use your own due diligence relying only on trust-worthy sources while making decisions.

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