Coronavirus: Vacuum cleaner bags may be best alternative to medical masks, study says

A man dressed in business attire wears a protective mask, following the outbreak of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S., July 23, 2020. (Reuters)

Vacuum cleaner bag masks may be the best alternative to medical and surgical masks to lower risk of infection of the novel coronavirus, a new study has found.

Where personal protective equipment (PPE) – such as medical masks – has been in short supply in the face of the wildly contagious and fast spreading COVID-19 pandemic, authorities have suggested that individuals wear cloth masks to minimize the spread of the virus and reserve PPE for medical workers and highly susceptible individuals – like the elderly and those with preexisting conditions.

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While the N95 face mask and surgical masks are the most efficient in reducing risk of transmission, individuals have taken to wearing cotton and silk masks as an alternative. The team of British and American researchers tested the efficacy of silk, tea towels, vacuum cleaner bags, pillowcases, antimicrobial pillowcases, cotton mixes, 100 percent cotton T-shirts, and linen or scarves in keeping the coronavirus at bay.

“This study demonstrated that some materials, such as vacuum cleaner bags, may be effective alternatives to reduce the risk of infection,” the study read.

Vacuum cleaner bags were found to be the most efficient of the non-traditional materials, with the common household supply reducing infection risk by 58 percent for a 20-minute exposure to the virus and 83 percent for a 30-minute exposure. Scarves, on the other hand, only reduced infection risk by 24 percent and 44 percent for a 20- and 30-minute exposure, respectively.

“While N95 masks (and similar respirators) are recommended for HCWs [health care workers] and others in close proximity to aerosol-generating procedures, alternative materials may be useful where there are shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE). This may be of particular relevance in lowresource settings where access to PPE is considerably more limited,” the authors wrote.

Around the world, more countries are mandating masks be worn in public, including in the UAE and France. In the US, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended in April that cloth masks be worn in public. The World Health Organization updated its guidelines in early June to recommend that governments ask everyone wear fabric face masks in public places.

Designer face masks in the display window of a beauty and wig salon are for sale in Washington, DC on June 17, 2020. (AFP)

Designer face masks in the display window of a beauty and wig salon are for sale in Washington, DC on June 17, 2020. (AFP)

“Non-traditional materials are widely recommended for public use… and have been considered in place of regulated masks in health care, especially in social care settings. While various materials are effective for filtering large droplets, aerosols generated from sneezing, coughing and aerosol-generating procedures may pass more readily through materials or leakage points,” the study read.

The study made available online in June and published in the Journal of Hospital Infection analyzed the risk of infection for short and long exposure scenarios, including being in a room with a coronavirus patient with no mask, when a FFP2, commonly known as the N95 mask, was worn; when an FFP3 respirator, or a surgical mask, was worn; or when a mask made of non-traditional material was worn.

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When compared to those who did not wear a mask for either a 20- or 30-minute exposure to the novel coronavirus, it was predicted that the average risk of infection fell by somewhere between 24 and 94 percent and 44 and 99 percent, depending on the mask worn, the study found.

The surgical masks were found to reduce risk by the largest margin, with 94 and 99 percent lowered risk for 20 and 30 minute exposures, respectively.

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Last Update: Friday, 24 July 2020 KSA 12:50 - GMT 09:50
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