The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has warned the public about the proliferation of counterfeit N95 respirators, which are being sold in offline and online stores. As people search for sufficient protection against the dangerous COVID-19 disease and other respiratory illnesses, N95 respirators have become the most in-demand type of personal protective equipment today. But how would you know if you are already wearing a fake N95 respirator?
The CDC has reported that counterfeit N95 respirators are marketed as “approved” products by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) on the market, as claimed by marketers, potentially putting anyone at risk of acquiring and transmitting respiratory infections. Fake N95 respirators may not be capable enough to provide effective respiratory protection to the wearer due to falsified claims for testing performance. At the same time, counterfeit N95 respirators can be made of low-quality filtering materials, which may be insufficient to block dangerous airborne particles in contaminated workplaces.
As of early March this year, a number of media outlets have reported that counterfeit N95 respirators have been circulating in various private and public healthcare institutions in different parts of the world. Some still remain unaware of the existence of fake N95 respirators. This is why it is important to know how to figure out the fake ones from the real N95 respirators.
To identify a NIOSH-certified N95 respirator, always look for the NIOSH approval marking printed somewhere on the packaging or user instructional manual. An abbreviated approval “NIOSH” label is also written on the N95 respirator. All approved filtering facepiece respirators will always indicate their designated product code like N95, N99, N100, R95, R99, R100, P95, P99, P100 as proof for passing the standard testing.
Another way to determine if the N95 respirator is fake or not is to verify the approval number on the NIOSH Certified Equipment List (CEL) or from its Trusted Source Page. NIOSH Certified Equipment List contains all approved personal protective equipment of different manufacturers and accredited distributors across the world. If you are not sure about the product authenticity of your N95 respirator, consider looking for these signs as suggested by The National Personal Protective Technology Laboratory (NPPTL):
- Counterfeit N95 respirators have no clear markings on any portion of the protective device.
- Fake N95 respirators may possibly display the name NIOSH on the box but spelled incorrectly or if the official NIOSH marking is not clear enough.
- Counterfeit N95 masks have no approval label indicated on the filtering facepiece respirator (referring to TC number on the unit or headband).
- Real N95 respirators do not use ear loops but rather headbands to ensure proper face fit.
- You will not find any NIOSH marking on the packaging as well as on the filtering facepiece respirator itself.
- NIOSH-approved N95 respirators do not contain decorative fabrics or add-ons like fancy colors, sequins, and bangles.
- NIOSH-approved N95 respirators do not indicate any claim for use by children because NIOSH does not approve any type of respiratory protection made for children.
Remember that a genuine NIOSH-certified N95 respirator has a label within the packaging of the mask together with an approval number and complete manufacturer details. When talking about details, the packaging should display the address, contact numbers, regulatory agency, and accredited business organization of the manufacturer.
As a precaution, health professionals, project managers, and respiratory program administrators are highly encouraged to check actual filtering facepiece respirators using the above guidelines set forth by NPPTL. To help manufacturers, users, and providers become aware of these counterfeit masks, concerned observers also post examples of product misrepresentation and tips over the internet.
It is safe to assume that the general public will likely encounter these counterfeit N95 respirators continuously on the market as long as the recent global health crisis remains unresolved. So practice due diligence and report any selling of fake NIOSH approved products to proper authorities.