Standard surgical masks are as effective as fit-tested N95 respirators in protecting healthcare workers against influenza, according to a JAMA report published online.
Some 450 Ontario nurses working in emergency departments, medical units, and pediatric units were randomized to use either a fit-tested N95 respirator or a surgical mask when caring for patients with febrile respiratory illnesses during the 2008-2009 flu season. By study’s end, roughly 23% of each group had suffered a laboratory-confirmed influenza infection, showing the noninferiority of surgical masks for protection.
The authors warn that their results “should not be generalized to settings where there is a high risk for aerosolization, such as intubation or bronchoscopy, where use of an N95 respirator would be prudent.”
Editorialists say that masks and respirators should be considered the “last line of defense” in infection control in influenza, with the first being annual vaccination of healthcare personnel."