Lifestyle

Poorly fitting face masks put health care workers at risk of COVID-19

Poorly fitting face masks put health care workers at risk of COVID-19

Poorly fitted face masks are putting a high percentage of health care staff at risk of contracting airborne diseases like COVID-19.

WA researchers combed through literature on the commonly used N95 and P2 masks, and found women and Asian health care workers were most at risk from masks not fitting properly.

Researchers from UWA, Perth Children’s Hospital and Fiona Stanley Hospital looked at the importance of testing and checking the fit of the masks, to ensure there were no air leakages.

The review found initial fit-pass rates for women varied between 40 and 90 per cent while an average of 60 per cent was recorded in fit pass rates in Asian women.

Fit pass rates were higher among men and in Caucasians compared to Asians.

Professor Britta von Ungern-Sternberg, from UWA’s Medical School, said many masks were falling short because one size did not fit all.

“It’s important that health care workers are checking their face mask when they put it on, but also regular fit testing of masks is needed to ensure there are no leaks that are often too small for health care workers to pick up with simple fit checking,” Professor von Ungern-Sternberg said.

“Performing a self-test to check if they can feel a leak should be carried out each time a health care worker puts on a mask but it is not reliable in detecting proper fit or leak and should not replace fit testing.

“The review also shows respirators fitting correctly is far more important for airborne protection than the filtration capacity of the material.”

Clinical Associate Professor Adrian Regli, an Intensive Care Consultant at Fiona Stanley Hospital, said when masks did not fit properly, leaks could occur allowing airborne diseases to enter, resulting in decreased protection of individuals.

Subscribe to our newsletter
Subscribe to our newsletter

“In the COVID-19 environment, it’s particularly important to ensure masks fit correctly, which is the last line of defence for health care workers,” Professor Regli said.

The authors say the review highlights that fit testing should be conducted annually, in line with national and international recommendations.