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J Occup Environ Hyg. 2016 Jul;13(7):569-76. doi: 10.1080/15459624.2015.1043050.

Respiratory source control using a surgical mask: An in vitro study.

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a Stony Brook University Medical Center, Pulmonary, Critical Care & Sleep Medicine , Stony Brook , New York.


Cough etiquette and respiratory hygiene are forms of source control encouraged to prevent the spread of respiratory infection. The use of surgical masks as a means of source control has not been quantified in terms of reducing exposure to others. We designed an in vitro model using various facepieces to assess their contribution to exposure reduction when worn at the infectious source (Source) relative to facepieces worn for primary (Receiver) protection, and the factors that contribute to each. In a chamber with various airflows, radiolabeled aerosols were exhaled via a ventilated soft-face manikin head using tidal breathing and cough (Source). Another manikin, containing a filter, quantified recipient exposure (Receiver). The natural fit surgical mask, fitted (SecureFit) surgical mask and an N95-class filtering facepiece respirator (commonly known as an "N95 respirator") with and without a Vaseline-seal were tested. With cough, source control (mask or respirator on Source) was statistically superior to mask or unsealed respirator protection on the Receiver (Receiver protection) in all environments. To equal source control during coughing, the N95 respirator must be Vaseline-sealed. During tidal breathing, source control was comparable or superior to mask or respirator protection on the Receiver. Source control via surgical masks may be an important adjunct defense against the spread of respiratory infections. The fit of the mask or respirator, in combination with the airflow patterns in a given setting, are significant contributors to source control efficacy. Future clinical trials should include a surgical mask source control arm to assess the contribution of source control in overall protection against airborne infection.


Aerosol; environmental controls; respirator; surgical mask

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