The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has certified the first respirator for use by the public in cases of health emergency, such as major pandemics or biological terrorist attacks.
From the FDA statement:
These two filtering facepiece respirators, manufactured by St. Paul, Minn.-based 3M Company (and called the 3M Respirator 8612F and 8670F), will be available to the general public without a prescription.
The devices are also certified as N95 filtering facepiece respirators by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). NIOSH certifies respirators for use in occupational settings in accordance with an appropriate respiratory protection program.
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, 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.”
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.