Charlie Da Zhou, Pamela Sivathondan and Ashok Handa
New College, University of Oxford
The use of surgical facemasks is ubiquitous in surgical practice. Facemasks have long been thought to confer protection to the patient from wound infection and contamination from the operating surgeon and other members of the surgical staff. More recently, protection of the theatre staff from patient-derived blood/bodily fluid splashes has also been offered as a reason for their continued use. In light of current NHS budget constraints and cost-cutting strategies, we examined the evidence base behind the use of surgical facemasks.
Examination of the literature revealed much of the published work on the matter to be quite dated and often studies had poorly elucidated methodologies. As a result, we recommend caution in extrapolating their findings to contemporary surgical practice. However, overall there is a lack of substantial evidence to support claims that facemasks protect either patient or surgeon from infectious contamination. More rigorous contemporary research is needed to make a definitive comment on the effectiveness of surgical facemasks.