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How Useful Are Face Masks?

Date : Mar 18, 2020

Author : DR A Zayed

Since early December 2019, we have been faced with an outbreak of a new virus recognized as the SARS-CoV-2 virus which causes dangerous COVID-19 disease. Many people have lost their lives because of this new disease that has recently spread all around the world, with the most affected countries being China, Italy, South Korea, Spain, and many others.

And the virus does not seem to stop, taking more and more lives each day. And so, since the virus first started spreading, we see more people walking around wearing gloves and surgical face masks in hopes of avoiding to get affected by this virus. But the question is – Are the surgical masks really helpful? Could they protect you against the COVID-19? 

The doctor holds antivirus face mask in hands

Are face masks worth it?

Each day we learn something new about the SARS-CoV-2 and the way that it keeps affecting more people around the world. We do know that it spreads through respiratory droplets and direct person-to-person contact. It is only natural to think that a face mask would prevent you from being affected.

According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), face masks should not be worn by people who are not affected by the COVID-19, unless their doctor has instructed them otherwise. A face mask is a must, however, for anyone who has been showing symptoms of COVID-19, has recently traveled to a high-risk country, or are asymptomatic carriers of the virus that have tested positive. A face mask, in this case, is meant to prevent further spreading of the virus and the disease itself. 

Unfortunately, a plain old surgical mask is not enough. Because it is not thick enough, doctors think of it as ineffective when it comes to preventing this infection. Instead, they encourage people to buy a specialized mask called N95 respirator. The reason for that is because the N95 respirator is thicker than the usual surgical mask.

During surgery, the surgical mask is worn to prevent the surgeon’s pathogens from entering the surgical field. However, it is not meant to keep out viral particles from entering your body. Plus, it is placed loosely on your face, not being tightly fitted around your nose and cheeks. Also, surgical masks should be disposed of after one use as they are not meant to be reused in the future. 

The mask covers the nose, cheeks, chin, and mouth. But because of it being thicker and generally bigger than the surgical mask, breathing can be a challenge. Past reports have talked about it being even a bit claustrophobic, but if it will protect us against the SARS-CoV-2 it is worth using it.  

But the mask is not magical and proper fitting is a must. If there is any free space between the mask and the parts of your face that it covers, letting air come in and out of there, it will not do much for you in terms of protection. Instead, it is meant to be tightly fitted on the face. You may ask a doctor or a pharmacist to give you some instructions on how to properly fit your mask. 

If you are worried and want to be safe, we recommend buying yourself an N95 respirator just to make sure that you are protected. Do ask for proper instructions on how to get it tightly fitted on your face and do use it as instructed for maximum efficiency. As for those who have tested positive for SARS-CoV-19, do wear your face mask at all times during the day and do follow the instructions provided by the CDC and WHO (World Health Organization).

References

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/about/index.html

http://www.cidrap.umn.edu/news-perspective/2020/03/study-covid-19-may-spread-several-different-ways

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/faq.html#protect

https://www.livescience.com/face-mask-new-coronavirus.html

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