What is the difference between a level 2 and 3 ASTM surgical mask?

Surgical masks are used regularly by frontline workers as part of their Personal
Protective Equipment (PPE) as they offer protection of the nose and mouth from
potentially infectious respiratory droplets and fluid particles. ASTM-rated Level 2 and 3
surgical masks are often the preferred choice in medical settings because ASTM rated
masks are known for their safety and high quality. They are made according to the
standards set by the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) and are
approved by both the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Health Canada.
ASTM levels are assigned based on the results of tests done on the barrier of the mask.
So, what is the difference between level 2 and level 3 ASTM surgical masks?

The barrier of ASTM-rated masks is tested for fluid resistance, breathability, bacterial
and particle filtration efficiency and flammability. Level 2 surgical masks offer moderate
barrier protection and are more suited to be used in situations and procedures where
there is a low to moderate risk of exposure to fluid splatter and aerosols. Compared to
level 1 masks, they are significantly more fluid resistant and have better filtration
efficiency. They are typically used in moderate-risk non-surgical procedures.

ASTM level 3 surgical masks provide the most barrier protection of all ASTM-rated
masks. They have the highest fluid resistance and bacterial filtration efficiency but as a
result they also have the lowest breathability. These qualities make it the most useful for
procedures where the risk of exposure to fluid spray and aerosols is the highest. They
are the best to use during most surgical procedures with the exception of those that risk
exposure to vapours and airborne pathogens, for which a respirator will be needed.

Despite the fact that they are rated differently, there are very few differences between
level 2 and level 3 ASTM surgical masks. Level 3 masks are more fluid resistant and
less breathable but in terms of bacterial and particulate filtration they both perform at a
similar level. Also, both masks provide adequate protection against respiratory droplets
which can carry viruses, such as the virus behind the ongoing pandemic. However,
because of its ability to better resist fluid spray the level 3 mask is the preferred choice
for moderate to high risk procedures. Penguin Health offers both level 2 and level 3
ASTM surgical masks that have been manufactured in Ontario and meet the standards
of Health Canada.

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