The history of the invention of the medical mask

01.04.2020 Medicine
The history of the invention of the medical mask

Man is very vulnerable by nature. Primitive people learned to protect their body from cold and direct sunlight with animal skins and foliage. They didn’t succeed in sheltering from diseases. The very idea that one can isolate oneself from an ailment would sound ridiculous to our distant ancestors. For a long time there was an opinion that poor health originates within the body. There can be many reasons for this: from eating something unsuitable, to the effects of evil spirits that have penetrated the body.

The opinion that a person can get sick can be around for a long time, for example, with a swamp , due to bad air, originated in antiquity. The only way to solve the problem was considered a change of residence, or drainage of swamps. Individual protection from an unpleasant spirit did not exist. Everything changed in the Middle Ages.

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In the 14th century a plague came to Europe. Infection with a new disease occurred so rapidly that one involuntarily had to think that death was spreading through the air. The epidemic began in port cities, the first victims were those who lived in neighborhoods with the worst sanitary conditions. Today we know that the bacteria were transmitted by rats whose fleas periodically bit humans. Only medieval scholars came to a different conclusion - the stench was declared the cause of the disease.

To protect against the stench that stood on the streets and intensified at the height of the epidemic, when there was no one to remove the corpses, the doctors helped with a protective mask. It was equipped with a beak, in which a fragrant herbarium was placed, or a scarf moistened with aromatic oil. It was impossible to avoid infection by putting this structure over his head during visits to patients, but neglecting other hygiene habits.

Doctor. Ancient engraving

Image of the doctor with his description equipment for visiting plague patients. An old engraving

The mask with its beak was declared idle and sent to the dump of historical artifacts. Subsequently, she appeared only at the Venice Carnival, becoming its integral part.


In the 19th century. pundits were interested in animals that were discovered only 100 years before and were visible only under a microscope. It turned out that they are the cause of most diseases. Through the efforts of Louis Pasteur, the doctors realized the danger of germs and began to fight with them intensely. Ignaz Semmelweiss taught doctors how to wash their hands before touching the patient.

In 1896, German hygienist professor Karl Flygge was called up by his friend, surgeon Jan Mikulicz-Radetzukim, as a detective to investigate a mysterious death that occurred in the hospital. Mikulich-Radetsky conducted a successful operation, but soon the patient died of blood poisoning. The scientist had to find out where the infection came from in the operating room, where everything shone clean.

Karl Flygge

Karl Flugge

Flygge and his assistant checked whether a person, having been in a moldy room, could bring her spores in the airways to a completely sterile office. The result of the experiment was positive - the surgeon unintentionally brought the patient himself to the patient, giving commands to his assistants during the operation. It was possible to prevent such cases by covering the mouth and nose of the medic with a cloth.

The mask is coming back

The new version of the medical mask had a completely different purpose than the famous beak . Modern protection had a simple form - several layers of gauze covered the face of the doctor. They tried to replace the thin fabric with a more reliable woolen fabric, but they abandoned this idea because of difficulties with ventilation of the masked space.

The invention came into mass use during the First World War when the Spanish flu epidemic broke out. A multilayer gauze dressing did not allow the spread of mucus from the nasopharynx around itself, which was highly likely to be infected. She went beyond the operating room and proved her effectiveness in combating the rapidly spreading infection, which is transmitted by airborne droplets.

After defeating the Spaniard, the useful accessory was returned to doctors. It was used not only by surgeons, but also by doctors, whose duties included the reception of a large number of patients.

Responsible for life (1980). Artist Andrei Kurnakov

Responsible for life (1980). Artist Andrei Kurnakov

New mask

The era of synthetic materials has become a new milestone in the history of medical masks. This accessory began to be made of a polymer non-woven fabric, in which there were no gaps between the threads. There are options for everyday wear and for working in rooms where sterility is needed. The former are widely used as respirators that save the respiratory tract from smog.

Medical masks

The medical mask has become a disposable personal hygiene item, like a paper napkin. Such a comparison is not accidental: as soon as the tissue gets wet, pathogens from outside and inside can freely ply, the barrier effect disappears. The mask must be changed without waiting for this moment. This product cannot be washed or heat treated.

Remember to wear a medical mask before visiting crowded places. Feel free to remind her relatives about her need. Do not save - carry a supply of masks with you to change them if necessary. By sharing a protective accessory with others, you prevent the likelihood that they will share the infection with you.


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