Surgical mask

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For other uses, see Respirator.
Surgeons wearing surgical masks performing a mitral valve replacement at the Fitzsimons Army Medical Center in 1990.

A surgical mask, also known as a procedure mask, is intended to be worn by health professionals during surgery and during nursing[1] 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 East Asia countries 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.[2] 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 flu pandemic featuring swine flu and the H1N1 virus. They are also worn by people in dusty environments such as sanitation workers.

In higher risk environments, 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.[3]


Typical 3-ply surgical masks. The top one has the right side up and the bottom one up side down. The edge with double stitches is designed to cover the nose, and a metal wire is concealed within so the mask could be fitted to the contour of the nasal bridge.

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.


Without the manifold buffers afforded by a surgical mask, airborne diseases can be easily transferred via respiratory droplets

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.[4][5]

A Kimberly-Clark procedure mask worn by a man immediately prior to taking his octogenarian father home from the Boise VA Medical Center (Fort Boise) during the 2014-2015 flu season on Christmas Day 2014; that year's flu shot had only provided 50% protection.[6] Note the full facial shielding and the Droplet Isolation protocol signage.
During the 1918 flu pandemic, a street car conductor in Seattle, USA refuses a person who attempts to board without wearing a mask.

CDC provides additional information on manufacturers' products, as well as the importance of correct fitting of such masks (respirators). A printable factsheet has been designed for issue to those unaccustomed to respirator use.[7]

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.[3]

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.[citation needed]
  • In Japan and Taiwan, it is common to see these masks worn while ill, as a show of consideration for others and social responsibility.[8]


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[clarification needed] 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.

Non health-related uses[edit]

The mythological figure Kuchisake Onna is commonly seen with a surgical mask to hide the scars on her mouth. Pop star Michael Jackson often wore a surgical mask when in public to conceal his identity.


  1. ^ Procedure mask.
  2. ^ Juliet Hindell (May 30, 1999). "Japan's war on germs and smells". BBC Online. 
  3. ^ a b "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. 
  4. ^ "Interim guidance on planning for the use of surgical masks and respirators in health care settings during an influenza pandemic" (PDF). U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. October 2006. 
  5. ^ "Working with highly pathogenic avian influenza virus". UK Health and Safety Executive. Retrieved August 2, 2014. 
  6. ^ /2014/12/08/dr-mark-dowell-urges-flu-shots-despite-mutated-h3n2-strain/
  7. ^ "N95 Factsheet". Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. [dead link]
  8. ^ "For allergy season, Japan turns to surgical masks". Japan Today. [dead link]