A recent study at the University of Cambridge and Cambridge University Hospitals (CUH) NHS Foundation Trust found that upgrading their staff that were caring for Covid-19 patients from the simple Type IIR Surgical Masks (FRSM’s) to FFP3 masks cut ward-based infections by 100%.
During the initial onset of Covid-19 in line with initial World Health Organisation (WHO) advice & Public Health England (PHE) Healthcare workers were provided with Fluid Resistant Surgical Masks Type IIR.
Type IIR Masks only act as a physical barrier between the users mouth & the infected environment. These are loose fitting & do not possess a proper seal & are less effective than respirator masks but allow comfortable breathing & reduce transmission probability.
If aerosol generating procedures were undertaken FFP3 masks were advised to be used.
FFP3 masks are tight fitting face respirators & provide a proper seal around the face ensuring that any air that is breathed is first filtered through the mask itself.
Since the start of the pandemic CUH have been regularly screening its healthcare workers irrespective of showing symptoms & they found that healthcare workers caring for Covid19 patients were at 47 times greater risk of infection with Covid 19 than staff on non covid wards when using the initial recommended respiratory protection such as the Fluid Resistant Surgical Masks Type IIR.
As a result of this finding its infection control committee implemented a change in respiratory protective equipment from surgical masks to FFP3 respirators and found a dramatic improvement in levels of infection.
Dr Chris Illingworth from the MRC Biostatistics Unit at the University of Cambridge, said: “Once FFP3 respirators were introduced, the number of cases attributed to exposure on COVID-19 wards dropped dramatically – in fact, our model suggests that FFP3 respirators may have cut ward-based infection to zero.”
Dr Mark Ferris from the University of Cambridge’s Occupational Health Service, said: “Based on data collected during the second wave of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic in the UK, we developed a mathematical model to look at the risks faced by those staff dealing with COVID-19 patients on a day to day basis. This showed us the huge effect that using better PPE could have in reducing the risk to healthcare workers.”
Crucially, however, the model showed that the introduction of FFP3 respirators provided up to 100% protection against direct, ward-based COVID-19 infection.
The research which was funded by Wellcome, the Addenbrooke’s Charitable Trust, UK Research and Innovations, and the NIHR Cambridge Biomedical Research Centre goes along way in showing that upgrading respiratory equipment to FFP3 masks would reduce the number of infections & provide better protection for al healthcare workers exposed to Covid-19.