COLUMBUS, Ohio — Right now, the demand for N95 respirators is high, and there are counterfeits out there.
When you're looking to buy one, a NIOSH mark is what you need to look for. It stands for National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
"If that is either not on the mask in some form, or if it's spelled incorrectly, you want to make sure that that might be suspicious for a mask that may not be approved or some type of counterfeit,” explained Dr. Jessica Shepherd, Chief Medical Officer of Verywell Health based in New York City.
The CDC's website updates a database weekly of NIOSH-approved face masks and you can search by the name of the manufacturer to make sure yours is real.
You'll also want to pay attention to how the respirator is worn.
"Make sure that it actually has areas that are supposed to go on the top of your head and towards the bottom of your head at the back, it really should have something that is a headband more than more than what we would see as an ear loop,” said Dr. Shepherd.
The CDC lists more signs a respirator may be counterfeit: If it has no markings at all, has decorative fabric, or claims to be approved for children. NIOSH doesn't approve any type of respiratory protection for kids.
For KN95 masks, it's probably the type you're seeing pop up more often online. These are imported from China, and can be a little more tricky to vet.
Back in April 2020, the FDA issued an Emergency Use Authorization to allow imported masks, like KN95s.
NIOSH has been working to assess the filtration efficiency of these masks -- and -- results according to the CDC, "do not provide the level of protection expected. While some have filtering efficiencies close to 95%, most are measuring well below 95%."
You can check those NIOSH assessments on its website.
"What I would say in the end is I would definitely recommend a mask versus no mask,” Dr. Shepherd said.