The N95 Mask to Protect Against Tuberculosis

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The N95 medical mask is a type of disposable respirator that may be used in a medical or industrial setting. Both types of N95 function by filtering out particulates in the air before they reach your respiratory system. Both the FDA and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health approve the use of N95 respirator masks to protect against tuberculosis transmission.

Indications For Use

N95 respirator masks would typically be used by medical professionals coming into contact with an individual with suspected or diagnosed active tuberculosis. Tuberculosis bacteria may pass through the air from an infected person to a non-infected person if the infected patient coughs. Wearing an N95 mask is a safety precaution if your work brings you in contact with a person believed to have active TB. Mask use would also be required of public health workers who oversee in-home administration of anti-TB drugs to patients receiving treatment for the active infection.


The term "N95" actually refers to a whole class or NIOSH-approved respirator masks, and the functioning and efficiency of individual mask models may differ. The N95-class respirator mask is any which filters at least 95 percent of air particulates. According to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention, N95 filters are fitted into different types of mask, including the N99, N100, R95, R99, R100, P95, P99 and P100. The letters in the model names indicate oil resistance. "N" masks are not oil-resistant; "P" masks are somewhat oil-resistant; "R" masks are oil-resistant. The numbers indicate the minimum filtering effectiveness of the mask. The "95" indicates 95-percent efficiency; "99" indicates 99-percent efficiency; "100" indicates a filtering efficiency of at least 99.97 percent.


There are different types of tuberculosis. Each poses a different risk level to the non-infected person. You would not need to wear an N95 mask when in contact with a person who has latent tuberculosis. Latent TB means that the person has encountered the TB bacteria, but he has no symptoms and cannot infect other people. Latent TB is typically treated with a six-month course of medication. A patient with active tuberculosis will be symptomatic and can infect anyone who breathes the same air. You would need to wear an N95 mask or similar when interacting with a known TB patient, or someone who displays the characteristic symptoms of TB. These include a cough lasting at least three weeks, chest pain, coughing up sputum or blood, weight loss, chills and night sweats. People with HIV or AIDS are at a greater risk of developing active tuberculosis. TB is also more common in certain countries of the world.


If your work or family life brings you into regular contact with people who may have active tuberculosis, your employer will likely mandate a raft of precautionary measures. Health care professionals, for example, typically receive regular skin tests to assess whether TB exposure or infection has occurred. A positive skin test, without other symptoms, could mean that you have latent TB. This is usually treated with a six-month course of the drug isoniazid. Other precautionary measures used to prevent contraction of TB include the BCG vaccination, which is routinely administered to schoolchildren in certain European countries.