Don't count on those disposable masks to completely protect you against the swine flu.

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Don’t count on those disposable masks to completely protect you against the swine flu.

The loosefitting masks were designed to help stop droplets from spreading from the person wearing the mask. They also protect the wearer’s mouth and nose from splashes. They are not created to protect the wearer from breathing in very small particles.

Respirators, on the other hand, are made for just that. They are similar in appearance to the relatively inexpensive face masks but are designed to protect the wearer from breathing in particles.

These masks, known as N95 for their filtering ability, fit more snugly on the face than face masks so that air is breathed through the filter. They work best if they are fitted to the person wearing the mask.

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Federal health officials said Monday that they don’t know how helpful either device is in preventing swine-flu infection.

Hong Kong team at work on fast test

BEIJING — Hong Kong said Monday it has assigned a team of scientists to develop a test to cut the time it takes to diagnose the new swine-flu strain from a few days to a few hours.

Researchers in Hong Kong played a big role in discovering and determining how to treat SARS — a separate deadly virus that spread rapidly in 2003, killing more than 900 people. The island was the second hardest-hit after mainland China.

Thomas Tsang, controller for Hong Kong’s Center for Health Protection, said the government and the territory’s universities are jointly developing the rapid swine-flu test using genetic information on the virus from the World Health Organization. Such data is shared with designated flu laboratories worldwide.

Dr. Malik Peiris of Hong Kong University, one of the researchers and also the professor who discovered the SARS virus, said he expected the test to be ready within a week.

Tsang said the test will be based on a standard laboratory procedure called PCR, or polymerase chain reaction, which is already used to diagnose dozens of other infections. The process can find bits of genetic material that are unique to the virus, then reproduce them in large quantities for easy identification.

Call it Mexican flu, says Israeli official

JERUSALEM — The outbreak of swine flu should be renamed “Mexican” influenza in deference to Muslim and Jewish sensitivities over pork, an Israeli health official said Monday.

Deputy Health Minister Yakov Litzman said the reference to pigs is offensive to both religions and “we should call this Mexican flu and not swine flu,” he told a news conference at a hospital in central Israel.

Two Israelis who recently visited Mexico have been hospitalized with symptoms of the flu. Health authorities have not yet confirmed whether they actually have the virus.

Congress to hold< hearings this week

WASHINGTON — Congress plans to hold emergency hearings this week on swine flu.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano is to testify on the matter before a Senate panel today.

Across the Capitol a day later, other health experts are scheduled to tell a House subcommittee about the risk of the flu spreading.

Seattle Times news services

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