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Importance: Clinical studies have been inconclusive about the effectiveness of N95 respirators and medical masks in preventing health care personnel (HCP) from acquiring workplace viral respiratory infections.
Objective: To compare the effect of N95 respirators vs medical masks for prevention of influenza and other viral respiratory infections among HCP.
Design, Setting, and Participants: A cluster randomized pragmatic effectiveness study conducted at 137 outpatient study sites at 7 US medical centers between September 2011 and May 2015, with final follow-up in June 2016. Each year for 4 years, during the 12-week period of peak viral respiratory illness, pairs of outpatient sites (clusters) within each center were matched and randomly assigned to the N95 respirator or medical mask groups.
Interventions: Overall, 1993 participants in 189 clusters were randomly assigned to wear N95 respirators (2512 HCP-seasons of observation) and 2058 in 191 clusters were randomly assigned to wear medical masks (2668 HCP-seasons) when near patients with respiratory illness.
Main Outcomes and Measures: The primary outcome was the incidence of laboratory-confirmed influenza. Secondary outcomes included incidence of acute respiratory illness, laboratory-detected respiratory infections, laboratory-confirmed respiratory illness, and influenzalike illness. Adherence to interventions was assessed.
Results: Among 2862 randomized participants (mean [SD] age, 43 [11.5] years; 2369 [82.8%]) women), 2371 completed the study and accounted for 5180 HCP-seasons. There were 207 laboratory-confirmed influenza infection events (8.2% of HCP-seasons) in the N95 respirator group and 193 (7.2% of HCP-seasons) in the medical mask group (difference, 1.0%, [95% CI, -0.5% to 2.5%]; P = .18) (adjusted odds ratio [OR], 1.18 [95% CI, 0.95-1.45]). There were 1556 acute respiratory illness events in the respirator group vs 1711 in the mask group (difference, -21.9 per 1000 HCP-seasons [95% CI, -48.2 to 4.4]; P = .10); 679 laboratory-detected respiratory infections in the respirator group vs 745 in the mask group (difference, -8.9 per 1000 HCP-seasons, [95% CI, -33.3 to 15.4]; P = .47); 371 laboratory-confirmed respiratory illness events in the respirator group vs 417 in the mask group (difference, -8.6 per 1000 HCP-seasons [95% CI, -28.2 to 10.9]; P = .39); and 128 influenzalike illness events in the respirator group vs 166 in the mask group (difference, -11.3 per 1000 HCP-seasons [95% CI, -23.8 to 1.3]; P = .08). In the respirator group, 89.4% of participants reported "always" or "sometimes" wearing their assigned devices vs 90.2% in the mask group.
Conclusions and Relevance: Among outpatient health care personnel, N95 respirators vs medical masks as worn by participants in this trial resulted in no significant difference in the incidence of laboratory-confirmed influenza.
Trial Registration: ClinicalTrials.gov Identifier: NCT01249625.
|Family Medicine (FM)/General Practice (GP)|
|General Internal Medicine-Primary Care(US)|
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It will be a relief to healthcare personnel that the N95 mask was not more effective for preventing influenza. I doubt there would be much enthusiasm for wearing the mask. As a hospital attending, I will use this information on transmission rates - around 8% - to encourage healthcare personnel to use a mask if indicated, and to get a vaccine!
In the category of "dog bites man," this article is fairly unhelpful. During respiratory virus season, the risk for acquiring a "cold" is comparable for medical professionals as it is for the public. What happens in everyday encounters is so much more likely to drive viral transmission than occasional patient care. Furthermore, the number of patients with undiagnosed illness in the waiting room and hallway or those just developing symptoms must dwarf the number that are in actual practice, not to mention work colleagues! I'm glad the study shows these results, but it is absolutely what I and most other would have expected.
Useful information given the increased cost and discomfort associated with N95 respirators.
N95 respirators vs. medical masks as worn by participants in this pragmatic trial resulted in no significant difference in the incidence of laboratory-confirmed influenza. These results would encourage the use of medical masks in several resource-poor settings.