The research highlights the inadequacies of using the simple loose-fitting fluid resistant surgical masks more designed to prevent the transfer of liquids droplets (Loose fit/ gaps around the face) & the benefits of using FFP3 respirators that are close fitting masks with filtration material designed to filter the smallest of particulates & aerosols.
A recent Covid-19 protective mask study by Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Trust found that by upgrading their existing respiratory masks from the standard surgical masks IIR to the higher grade FFP3 masks for healthcare workers caring for patients with Covid 19 as well as undertaking aerosol procedures, there was a 100% reduction in the incidence of hospital acquired SARS-COV-2 infections amongst staff.
Dr Mark Ferris from the University of Cambridge’s Occupational Health Service & one of the study’s authors created a mathematical model based on data collected during the second wave to look at the risks faced by staff dealing with Covid-19 Patients on a day to day basis. They identified that by simply upgrading their respiratory masks reduced the risk to healthcare workers.
The mathematical model crucially showed that the introduction of FFP3 masks provided up to 100% protection against direct ward based Covid infection. This was amongst the staff who were exposed to high levels of Covid load working on Covid-19 wards and were in fact 47 times at greater risk of becoming infected.
According to Dr Chris Illingworth from the MRC Biostatistics Unit at the University of Cambridge, “Once FFP3 respirators were introduced, the number of cases attributed to exposure on covid-19 wards dropped dramatically – in fact, our model suggests that FFP3 respirators may have cut the ward based infection to zero.”
Dr Michael Weekes, Cambridge University NHS Foundations Trust who also worked on the study, said “Our data suggests there’s an urgent need to look at the PPE offered to healthcare workers on the frontline”
“Upgrading the equipment so that FFP3 Masks are offered to all healthcare workers caring for patients with Covid-19 could reduce the number of infections & keep more hospital staff safe”
The results have been released early to share the findings quickly prior to peer review.
Following this research that highlighted fluid resistant surgical masks were “insufficient” in protecting healthcare workers the RCN have been campaigning for national guidance to be changed so that FFP3 masks are worn.
Rose Gallagher, RCN Professional Lead for Infection Control, said "This important study adds even further weight to our continuing call for nursing staff to be better protected from COVID-19 and given routine access to the highest levels of respiratory protective equipment whenever they need it.” – Royal College of Nursing news.