A surgical mask, also known as a procedure mask, is intended to be worn by health professionals during surgery and at other times to catch the bacteria shed in liquid droplets and aerosols from the wearer's mouth and nose. Its first recorded use was by the French surgeon Paul Berger during an 1897 operation in Paris.
Surgical masks are also used by the general public in heavily populated countries in East Asia to reduce the chance of spreading airborne diseases. In Japan, it is common to wear a face mask whilst ill to avoid infecting others in public settings. Surgical masks were widely used in China, Hong Kong, Vietnam, and Toronto, Canada during outbreaks of the SARS virus, during the 2007 bird flu pandemic in Japan, and in the United States and Mexico City during the 2009 H1N1 flu outbreak, also known as the swine flu. It is also worn by people in dusty environments such as sanitation workers.
Surgical masks was also used in many countries to during flu pandemics such as the swine flu (H1N1) pandemic in 2009/10, in higher risk environment, N95 or NIOSH masks maybe used in place of surgical masks as they provide better protection due to their shape and securing straps.
Modern surgical masks are made from paper or other non-woven material, and should be discarded after each use.
The design of the surgical masks depends on the mode; usually the masks are 3 ply/3 layers. This 3 ply material is made up from a melt blown 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/folds commonly 3 pleated are used allowing the user to expand the mask so it covers from the nose and under the chin. Currently there are 3 different ways to secure the masks. The most popular is the ear loop; this is where a string like material is attached to the mask and placed behind the ears. The other methods are the tie on and the head band. The tie on straps consist of four non-woven straps that are tied behind the head and the elastic strap is similar to an elastic band that is placed behind the head.
Simple surgical masks protect wearers from being splashed in the mouth with body fluids and to prevent transmission of body fluids from the medical professional to 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. They are not designed to protect the wearer from inhaling airborne bacteria or viruses particles. They will trap some particles but are much less effective than respirators, which are designed for this purpose. 
Safety guidelines for healthcare workers recommend the wearing of a face-fit tested respirator mask conforming to United States standard NIOSH N95 or European standard EN 149 FFP3 in the vicinity of pandemic-flu patients, to reduce the exposure of the wearer to potentially infectious aerosols and airborne liquid droplets.
The CDC summary page, N95 Factsheet, provides additional information on manufacturers' products, as well as the importance of correct fitting of such masks (respirators). The printable factsheet has been designed for issue to those unacustomed to respirator use.
In community settings, according to the U. S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in its guidance regarding the 2009 swine flu outbreak, the use of facemask must be coupled with other measures such as avoiding close contact and maintaining good hand hygiene to reduce the risk of getting influenza.
Cotton and gauze masks are also available but they do not serve as surgical masks as they do not offer adequate filtration of microbes. Some people wear these over a normal surgical mask as they often feature patterns and designs that are more attractive and fashionable.
- Cryptomeria japonica discharges a large amount of pollen in spring. To prevent allergic rhinitis with the pollen of Cryptomeria japonica, the mask is multiused in Japan.
- In Japan and Taiwan, it is common to see these masks worn as a show of consideration for others and social responsibility.
Currently, several new masks are about to market new mask features. One feature is a no-strap design that uses adhesive to secure the mask to the face, leaving no gaps. Another is a PIT mask that is inserted up each nostril. The PIT mask is becoming more popular in western countries as the mask is not visible unlike the standard mask.
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- Japan's war on germs and smells, BBC Online
- Interim Recommendations for Facemask and Respirator Use to Reduce Novel Influenza A (H1N1) Virus Transmission, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, May 27, 2009: "Unless otherwise specified, the term "facemasks" refers to disposable facemasks cleared by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use as medical devices. This includes facemasks labeled as surgical, dental, medical procedure, isolation, or laser masks... Facemasks should be used once and then thrown away in the trash."
- surgical face mask
- Interim guidance on planning for the use of surgical masks and respirators in health care settings during an influenza pandemic, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, www.pandemicflu.org, October 2006
- Working with highly pathogenic avian influenza virus, UK Health and Safety Executive
- Interim Recommendations for Facemask and Respirator Use in Certain Community Settings Where H1N1 Influenza Virus Transmission Has Been Detected, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, May 1, 2009
- For allergy season, Japan turns to surgical masks