Surgical masks offer same protection as N95 respirators: study

Surgical masks are about as effective as N95 respirators in protecting health care workers from the H1N1 influenza virus, suggests an observational study by researchers at a hospital in Singapore.

From April through August 2009, only a small percentage of health care workers at the hospital tested positive for H1N1; none had cared for patients with the virus or worked in screening areas of the emergency room, according to a press release from the Infectious Diseases Society of America in Arlington, VA.

Researchers also compared rates among workers who wore N95 respirators in the emergency room and the H1N1 isolation area from June 19 to July 21 and wore surgical masks from July 22 to Aug. 31. The incidence of H1N1 was low for both periods, the release said.

The study authors recommended hospitals establish a policy requiring workers to wear protection when in close contact with all patients to prevent infection from someone not initially known to have the virus.

The study appeared in the April 1 issue of Clinical Infectious Diseases.

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