The recent outbreak of Coronavirus combined with an active flu season has many people scrambling for ways to protect themselves against illness. While surgical masks have long been popular in China as a way to guard against everything from air pollution to potential infections, it now seems they’re making their way to the US. Will wearing a mask really protect you from getting sick?
The short answer is—maybe. Virologists don’t seem to think masks will protect people from airborne viruses, mostly because there’s no evidence to prove they’re effective.
William Schaffner, a professor in the division of infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, told NPR, “There really are no good, solid, reliable data.”
Masks are often ill-fitting or too loose over the face, offer no real filter and leave eyes exposed. Since most viruses are airborne, this offers little protection. It’s also fairly impractical to wear a mask for prolonged periods of time, so any potential benefits may be negated by the difficulty of use.
While masks may not be effective in protecting against airborne viruses, many experts believe they’re helpful in protecting against hand-to-mouth transmissions. That means they’ll protect against splashes from others’ coughs or sneezes.
Masks will also likely reduce the chances of spreading infection from your hands coming in contact with your nose or mouth. According to the BBC, a New South Wales study conducted in 2016 showed that people touched their faces approximately 23 times per hour.
A go-to for many considering wearing a mask is the N95, like the 3M Cool Flow pictured above. According to an article in New Scientist, “N95 respirators offer more protection. Such devices are designed to prevent 95? of small particles from entering the nose and mouth area. But they only work if they fit properly, and aren’t suitable for children or people with facial hair.
N95 respirators can also make it more difficult for a person to breathe, so could be dangerous for someone showing symptoms of infection of the new coronavirus, which include coughing and shortness of breath.”
While masks may offer an additional line of defense against certain illnesses, most experts agree the best way to prevent infection is good, old-fashioned handwashing. Washing hands with soap for at least 20 seconds and making sure to wash the backs of your hands, in between your fingers and underneath your nails is the most effective way to protect yourself against the spread of viruses.
Mask and Coronavirus: Sources
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