What are N95 respirators?

N95 respirators, or particulate filtering face-piece respirators, belong to a category of face masks known as respirators. These type of respirators are used primarily by healthcare workers and part of their Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to protect the respiratory system from potentially harmful fluids and airborne particles by creating a barrier around the nose and mouth of the wearer. When worn properly and with the right fit, N95 respirators form a tight-fitting seal around the nose and mouth unlike surgical masks that have a loose fit. They work by filtering at least 95% of potentially harmful airborne particles and aerosols that are inhaled by the wearer. Health Canada accepts the standards for N95 respirators set by the U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). NIOSH standards look at the fit, breathability and filtering efficiency of the respirator among other things. Health Canada also recognizes the standards of some other countries as long as manufacturers can show that their products have passed the appropriate performance tests to meet Health Canada’s standards. For example, KN95 respirators are the Chinese standard and are similar to NIOSH-standard N95 respirators in terms of material standards, design and filter efficiency. Penguin Health offers both U.S. made NIOSH approved N95 respirators and the Chinese standard KN95 respirators.

How do they work?

When working with sick patients, healthcare workers are exposing themselves to airborne particles and aerosols that can cause infectious diseases. Surgical masks can offer protection against large particles and fluids but cannot protect against smaller airborne particulates that can be inhaled in procedures where risk of exposure to infectious diseases is high. In these situations, N95 respirators offer better protection by filtering at least 95% of these potentially hazardous airborne particulates. Their tight seal prevent airborne contaminants and viruses from entering and exiting through the edges of the mask. During this pandemic, N95 respirators have become essential for healthcare workers as they provide better protection against the virus than surgical masks.

Can N95 respirators be reused?

N95 respirators are meant to used once and then disposed of properly, especially when used by healthcare workers. However, given the urgent need for face masks during this pandemic, Health Canada has allowed the reuse of certain N95 respirators as long as they have been decontaminated properly. There are various methods for decontaminating and reprocessing used N95 respirators that have been approved by Health Canada. They will also have to be retested for their filter efficiency and fit before every reuse. There is a limit to how many times they can be reused as fit and filter efficiency will decrease over time.

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