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FDA Approves 3M Respirators for Public Health Emergencies

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) May 8 approved two 3M Co. respirators designed to reduce users' exposure to airborne germs during a flu pandemic or other public health emergency. The 3M respirators are the first to be approved for such a purpose.

The two filtering facepiece respirators – called the 3M respirator 8612F and 8670F – will be available to the general public without a prescription.

The devices are certified as N95 filtering facepiece respirators by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).

An N95 filtering facepiece respirator is a type of face mask that fits tightly over the nose and mouth. It is made of fibrous material that is designed to filter out at least 95 percent of very small airborne particles. The filter and a proper fit determine the effectiveness of the product.

“While the exact nature and concentration of the biological agent or germ may not be known in a public health medical emergency, we believe that minimizing exposure will help reduce risk,” said Daniel Schultz, M.D., director of FDA's Center for Devices and Radiological Health. “These respirators are only one part of a combination of approaches that can be used to help reduce the spread of infection between individuals during such events.”

FDA: Fit Testing Not Feasible During Public Health Emergency

Many companies make N95 respirators for workplaces, including health care settings. However, the 3M respirators are the first devices to receive FDA clearance for use by the public during public health medical emergencies to reduce exposure to airborne germs.

Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act and other occupational health regulations, respirators used in the workplace must be individually selected for each worker and tested to ensure a proper fit. This kind of fit testing is not generally employed outside the workplace now and, according to FDA, probably would not be feasible during a public health medical emergency.

FDA is requiring those who want to market respirators for use during public health medical emergencies to assure that they are certified by NIOSH to provide adequate filtration without hampering people's ability to breathe. In addition, companies must conduct fit assessment testing, conduct biocompatibility testing to reduce the chance for allergic skin reaction and provide instructions that will enable wearers to achieve a protective fit and use the devices properly.

3M evaluated fit characteristics in healthy adults to determine that a user could achieve a protective fit following the instructions on the label. The St. Paul, Minn.-based company measured how many airborne test particles were able to get inside the respirator through small leaks between the edges of the respirator and the wearer's face.

While individual results varied, according to FDA, all participants tested achieved some reduction in exposure to airborne test particles.

3M Respirators Sized for Adults

The 3M respirators are sized for adults and may not form a proper fit on children.

FDA also pointed out that:

  • Anything that comes between the respirator and the face, such as facial hair, may interfere with its fit.
  • Persons with pre-existing heart or lung disease or other health conditions may have difficulty breathing through a respirator.
  • The devices are for single use.
  • Wearers should not wash, disinfect, reuse or share their respirator with others.
  • The respirators should be discarded after use.

FDA said it soon will issue a guidance document outlining its regulatory approach to this new type of device.

According to FDA, inhaling particles is just one route of exposure to disease-causing organisms. Others include touching contaminated surfaces and coming into close contact with those who have infectious diseases.

A total approach to personal protection includes hand hygiene, cough etiquette and other protection practices such as avoiding crowded settings.

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