How to Spot a Counterfeit N95 Mask

How to Spot a Counterfeit N95 Mask
Photo: sunfe, Shutterstock

N95 respirator masks are more effective at stopping coronavirus-containing droplets than disposable surgical or cloth masks. But since they’re in such high demand, there’s a booming market in counterfeit and mislabeled masks. Recently, authorities in Hong Kong seized 100,000 fake N95s that they say were intended for the overseas market.

The U.S. National Institute on Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has a list of approved “trusted source” respirator models, so check that if you’re buying a mask — even if it has a NIOSH logo. The CDC points out that they have found dozens of brands of masks that had a NIOSH logo despite not being from approved manufacturers.

The CDC has more tips on how to spot counterfeit masks, including these red flags to watch out for:

  • a lack of text or markings on the mask itself
  • no approval number
  • no NIOSH logo, or NIOSH is misspelled
  • decorative fabric
  • a statement that it’s approved for children (NIOSH has not approved any masks for children)
  • ear loops (N95s have two straps that go around the head).

In addition to features of the mask, the CDC recommends taking a sceptical look at any online listings. Does the seller have good reviews? Do they specialise in medical equipment or are they just selling what’s trendy? Do they offer “unlimited stock”? PPE is still in short supply even for medical workers, so that’s an especially sketchy claim to make. You’re doing the right thing and wearing a mask, so you deserve to get the level of protection you’re counting on.

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