Kimberly-Clark: Not all face masks are created equal

Friday, 12 September, 2014

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By Dr Wava Truscott, PhD. MBA. Director, Medical Sciences & Clinical Education: Kimberly-Clark Health Care
[hr]If you think all face masks are created equal, you could be putting yourself, your staff, and your patients at risk.[hr]
In an environment of numerous mask options and continued cost cutting efforts, how can you be sure you’re getting the protection you need? One of the most important elements in keeping healthcare personnel and patients protected from exposure to infectious diseases is access to the right face mask.
Face masks are critical because they help to protect the mucous membranes of the nose and mouth during procedures involving fluids and airborne particles. These fluids and airborne particles are generated by splashes, sprays, droplets of blood, and body fluid secretions and excretions.
Wearing face masks that do not have a fluid-resistance rating may leave you inadequately protected when performing procedures that generate splashes or sprays of blood, body fluids, secretions or excretions.
How well are you protected?
Did you know that the concentration of viruses circulated in the blood can reach up to 10,000 viruses/ml for HIV, 1 million/ ml for Hepatitis C, and up to 10 trillion/ml for Hepatitis B?1
What is particularly worrisome is that clinical trials confirm that these potentially contaminated blood drops strike the head and neck of operating theatre staff more than 25% of the time during surgery.2
Further, clinical studies confirm that more than 90% of the time, surgeons, who are focused on their patients, are unaware that they have been struck by contaminated fluids3. This fact alone underscores the importance of surgeons having access to the right mask to protect themselves.
Clarity and choice
The Australian Standard (AS 4381:2002) only recommends fluid resistance at 120mmHg
ASTM-ChartTo make it easier to select the right level of mask protection, the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) International and the U.S Food and Drug Administration (FDA) developed mask labelling based on test performance criteria.  Within the ASTM Standard, there are 3 categories of protection, with Level 1 representing the lowest level of protection and Level 3 representing the highest level.  If we focus on the fluid resistance you will see that masks are required to withstand a pressure of 80 mmHg in order to meet the Level 1 criteria, 120 mmHg to meet the Level 2 criteria and 160 mmHg to achieve a Level 3 rating.
lableThe ASTM International Standard requires that face mask packaging has a graphic display that clearly states the mask’s performance level. Masks that do not have this graphic display cannot be assumed to be fluid-resistant.
Infection Control
Webinars Healthcare workers are routinely put at the very real risk of exposure to occupationally acquired illness or injury. But what do those exposed really know about the risks? What pathogens are a threat when spread by a blood splatter or spray or airborne droplet nuclei? What level of protection is needed for a specific procedure and how can we choose the right personal protective equipment (PPE)?
View the following two webinars on ‘Exposing Infection Control Risks and Mitigation Strategies’ to receive CPD points.
What to Consider Before Pathogens Take Flight,
presented by Dr Wava Truscott PhD. MBA. Director, Medical Sciences & Clinical Education, Kimberly-Clark Health Care
Navigating the Evidence behind Policies and Guidelines,
presented by Prof Mary-Louise McLaws, Professor of Epidemiology of Healthcare Infection and Infectious Diseases Control at the University of New South Wales
To view, go to or email
1. Bennet BT 1994 American College of Surgeons 178 (2): 49
2. AORN 2011 Perioperative Standards and Recommended Practices; Romney Surgical face masks in the operating theatre: re-examining the evidence 2000; 254
3. Hosogly, Salih, et al.. Transmission of hepatitis C by blood splash into conjunctiva in a nurse 2003;503
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