Masks Upgrade Cuts Infection Risk, Research Finds
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The quality of face masks healthcare workers wear makes a huge difference to their risk of coronavirus infection, Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust research has found. Wearing a high-grade mask known as an FFP3 can provide up to 100% protection. By contrast, there is a far greater chance of staff wearing standard issue surgical masks catching the virus.

The study found that staff caring for Covid patients on red wards faced a risk that was up to 47 times higher than those on green or non-Covid wards. Lead researcher said that staff were getting Covid despite doing everything they were asked to in terms of infection control. So as the second wave of the pandemic started to hit last December, managers in Cambridge made a local decision to upgrade the protection on red wards.

"The only thing left to try that could make a difference was FFP3 respirators, and they did," the researcher said. FFP3 masks have a close fit and are specifically designed to filter out aerosols. In the weeks following this move, the rate of infections among healthcare workers on red wards dropped spectacularly, quickly falling to the level experienced by staff on green wards where there were no Covid patients.

The study concludes that "cases attributed to ward-based exposure fell significantly, with FFP3 respirators providing 31-100% protection (and most likely 100%) against infection from patients with Covid-19". Any remaining cases were likely to be caused by spread in the community, rather than in the hospital. The paper says fluid-resistant surgical masks were "insufficient" to protect healthcare workers.

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