Effectiveness of N95 respirators versus surgical masks in protecting health care workers from acute respiratory infection: a systematic review and meta-analysis

We identified 6 clinical studies (3 RCTs, 1 cohort study and 2 case–control studies) and 23 surrogate exposure studies. In the meta-analysis of the clinical studies, we found no significant difference between N95 respirators and surgical masks in associated risk of (a) laboratory-confirmed respiratory infection (RCTs: odds ratio [OR] 0.89, 95% confidence interval [CI] 0.64–1.24; cohort study: OR 0.43, 95% CI 0.03–6.41; case–control studies: OR 0.91, 95% CI 0.25–3.36); (b) influenza-like illness (RCTs: OR 0.51, 95% CI 0.19–1.41); or (c) reported workplace absenteeism (RCT: OR 0.92, 95% CI 0.57–1.50). In the surrogate exposure studies, N95 respirators were associated with less filter penetration, less face-seal leakage and less total inward leakage under laboratory experimental conditions, compared with surgical masks.