Health Ministry warns against wearing N-95 mask with valve; here’s what doctors say

Rajiv Garg, the Director-General of Health Services, said the use of valved respirator N-95 masks is detrimental to the measures adopted for preventing the spread of coronavirus




In a letter to the Principal Secretaries of health and medical education of states, Rajiv Garg, the Director-General of Health Services (DGHS) recently pointed out the “inappropriate use” of N-95 masks with valved respirators by the public.

“It is to bring to your knowledge that the use of valved respirator N-95 masks is detrimental to the measures adopted for preventing the spread of coronavirus as it does not prevent the virus from escaping out of the mask,” Garg wrote in the letter.

Why you should avoid wearing N-95 masks with valves

As per the letter, N-95 masks with valves are not able to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Dr Nikhil Modi, senior consultant, respiratory, critical care and sleep disorder, institutes of critical care, Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals, New Delhi, explained to indianexpress.com, “When you exhale, the expired air goes out of the valve in the N-95 mask. If the person wearing such a mask is infected, COVID-19 virus can spread through the exhaled air into the atmosphere, which increases the risk of contamination of other people. So, in a way, it fails the coronavirus-control strategies.” A mask without a valve, on the other hand, will not allow the virus to spread.

Doctors have been discouraging the use of N-95 masks with exhaled valves in patient-management, said Dr Vikas Maurya, director & head, department of pulmonology & sleep disorders, Fortis Hospital, Shalimar Bagh, New Delhi. “If a COVID-19 patient is exhaling through the valve in the mask and there is another person in front wearing only a cloth mask, it does not really eliminate the risk of being infected. So at our hospital, we ensure people in the COVID wards are wearing normal N-95 masks without valves,” he added.

Earlier, the Health Ministry also issued an advisory, asking health workers coming in contact with COVID-19 patients to wear N-95 masks, while recommending others to wear homemade cloth masks. Follow these guidelines for washing and disposing of cloth masks.

What mask should you wear for protection against COVID-19?

Instead of N-95 masks with valved respirators, you can use the ones without it or use surgical or three-ply masks, advised Dr Modi. For others, even cloth masks work because they are usually not taking care of COVID-19 patients.

“The risk is less. Cloth masks are obviously not as high-grade as N-95 but it is sufficient to keep the virus at bay. Besides if we allow everyone to wear N-95 masks, there could be a shortage for healthcare professionals who need it. But if one is visiting a hospital for some reason, they should at least wear a surgical mask or N-95 masks without valves,” said Dr Maurya.

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