Surgical Mask vs Ordinary Cloth Mask in Corona Times

With the world still embroiled in the Covid 19 horror, the use of face masks as a line of defense to protect oneself from the deadly virus has been brought to the front burner.

The first question is “Are Face masks in general able to prevent the virus from gaining access to a person who wears them”? while the 2nd question is “can the nature of fabric of a face mask affect its ability to keep out Covid 19 Virus?

Here in Nigeria as the heightened tension in the populace over Corona Virus continues to increase, some people have resorted to helping themselves in the face of scarce PPE (Personal protective equipment) to keep themselves and their families safe as they go through each day. Its not been uncommon to see several DIY masks made out of local fabrics like ankara etc made by citizens so as to save money. Some have even turned it into brisk business selling them for as low as N50 a pop.



locally made cloth masks


But what is the point of it all if it just doesn’t work?

A trial of surgical and cloth mask use for HCWs (Health care workers) was conducted in 14 hospitals in Hanoi, Vietnam. The Participants were followed during the same calendar time for 4 weeks of cloth and surgical facemasks usage and then one additional week for appearance of symptoms. An invitation letter was sent to 32 hospitals in Hanoi, of which 16 agreed to participate. One hospital did not meet the eligibility criteria. Participants were followed up daily for 4 weeks (active intervention period), and for an extra week of standard practice, in order to document incident infection after incubation. Participants received a thermometer (traditional glass and mercury) to measure their temperature daily and at symptom onset.

The results showed that Cloth masks resulted in significantly higher rates of infection than Surgical masks, and also performed worse than the control arm. The controls were HCWs who observed standard practice, which involved mask use in the majority, albeit with lower compliance than in the intervention arms. The control HCWs also used medical masks more often than cloth masks. When all mask-wearers were analysed, including controls, the higher risk of cloth masks was seen for laboratory-confirmed respiratory viral infection. (see: This experiment answers the 2nd question posed above concerning whether the nature of fabric above can play a role in keeping out Covid ..the answer is YES.

Now, the World Health Organization (WHO), have also updated their guidelines for the use of protective face masks, warning instead that “The wide use of masks by healthy people in the community setting is not supported by current evidence and carries uncertainties and critical risks.”

The health body went on to say people can wear homemade cloth masks while out and about, while still urging them to leave specialized surgical Masks to health professionals who come in contact with actual virus victims.

So in summary

N95 masks/Surgical mask

An N95 mask offers more protection than a cloth mask does because it can filter out both large and small particles. The name indicates that the mask is designed to block 95% of very small particles.

Cloth mask

cloth masks are more accessible and reusable. Although cloth masks and N95 masks have different purposes, both are intended to slow the spread of COVID-19. A cloth mask is worn to help protect others in case the wearer has the virus. An N95 mask helps protect the wearer from getting the virus from others.

Bottom line get yourself a proper Surgical mask




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