Data shows N95 respirators may not be more effective than surgical masks in preventing the transmission of acute respiratory infections to healthcare workers.

“N95 respirators are recommended in some guidelines but not others…. Conflicting recommendations from federal and provincial health authorities lead to confusion among heath care workers, which can result in lack of adherence to basic infection control principles and practices,” Jeffrey D. Smith, MSc, from Public Health Ontario, Toronto, Canada, and colleagues write in an article published online March 7 in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

“[O]ur meta-analysis showed that there were insufficient data to determine definitively whether N95 respirators are superior to surgical masks in protecting health care workers against transmissible acute respiratory infections in clinical settings.”

Investigators included three randomized clinical trials, one cohort study, and two case–control studies in their systematic review. They also analyzed 23 surrogate exposure studies. In the meta-analysis of the clinical trials, Smith and colleagues were unable to identify any significant difference between patients who wore a N95 respirator and those who wore surgical masks in the risk of acquiring a confirmed respiratory infection or an influenza-like illness.

They also observed no difference in rates of reported workplace absenteeism between workers who donned a N95 respirator at work and those who chose to wear a surgical mask.

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