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A surgical mask, also known as a procedure mask or medical mask, is intended to be worn by health professionals during surgery and during nursing to catch the bacteria shed in liquid droplets and aerosols from the wearer’s mouth and nose. They are not designed to protect the wearer from inhaling airborne bacteria or virus particles and are less effective than respirators, such as N95 or FFP masks, which provide better protection due to their material, shape and tight seal.
Surgical masks are popularly worn by the general public all year round in East Asian countries like China, Japan and South Korea to reduce the chance of spreading airborne diseases and to prevent the breathing in of airborne dust particles created by air pollution. Additionally, surgical masks have become a fashion statement, particularly in contemporary East Asian culture bolstered by its popularity in Japanese and Korean pop culture which have a big impact on East Asian youth culture. More recently, due to the rising issue of smog in South and Southeast Asia, surgical masks and air filtering face masks are now frequently used in major cities in India, Nepal and Thailand when air quality deteriorates to toxic levels. Additionally, face masks are used in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore during the Southeast Asian haze season. Air filtering surgical-style masks are quite popular across Asia and as a result, many companies have released masks that not only prevent the breathing in of airborne dust particles but are also fashionable.
Health care workers
Simple surgical masks protect wearers from being splashed in the mouth with body fluids, and prevent transmission of body fluids from the wearer to others, e.g. the patient. They also remind wearers not to touch their mouth or nose, which could otherwise transfer viruses and bacteria after having touched a contaminated surface (fomite). They can also reduce the spread of infectious liquid droplets (carrying bacteria or viruses) that are created when the wearer coughs or sneezes. There is no clear evidence that disposable face masks worn by members of the surgical team would reduce the risk of wound infections after clean surgical procedures. Cotton and gauze masks do not serve as surgical masks as they do not offer adequate filtration of microbes.
The design of the surgical masks depends on the mode; usually the masks are three-ply (three layers). This three-ply material is made up from a melt-blown material placed between non-woven fabric. The melt-blown material acts as the filter that stops microbes from entering or exiting the mask. Most surgical masks feature pleats or folds. Three pleats are used to allow the user to expand the mask such that it covers the area from the nose to the chin. There are three different ways to secure the masks. The most popular is the ear loop, where a string-like material is attached to the mask and placed behind the ears. The other is the tie-on, which consists of four non-woven straps that are tied behind the head. The third is the headband, an elastic strap which is secured behind the head.