Angry Doctor

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

What, me wear a mask?


Reader Skeptic asks: Really are the masks effective to keep viruses out, or in?

Surprisingly, or maybe not, we are not really sure. There are many variables that may affect whether a person coming into contact with a flu patient will catch the virus, including type of mask, tightness of fit, adherence to mask use, type of virus, proximity to the patient, length of exposure, ventilation, uv radiation, exposure to skin and conjunctiva, etc.

But really, what Skeptic is perhaps asking is: should I wear a mask?

Well, some nice people in Australia conducted a randomised trial on the use of face masks in control of respiratory virus in the household setting, and their conclusion is that "household use of masks is associated with low adherence and is ineffective in controlling seasonal ILI [influenza-like illness]". But the authors also cautioned against "extrapolating our results to school, workplace, or community contexts, or where multiple, repeated exposures may occur, such as in healthcare settings".

Not really helpful then.

But if you'll allow angry doc to give some non-evidence-based advice, this is what he'll say: I went through the SARS epidemic unscathed on personal protective equipment and good hygiene practices, but you won't catch me wearing a mask outside my workplace. Yet.

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4 Comments:

  • Maybe more specifically, is the material the mask is made of good enough to stop the tiny tiny virus from passing through?

    By Anonymous Skeptic, At May 07, 2009 11:21 am  

  • Not the virus itself, but then the virus does not travel as an individual object, but in droplets, which do get trapped by the material of the N95 mask (95% of them anyway, theoretically).

    By Blogger angry doc, At May 07, 2009 11:59 am  

  • Actually the main purpose of the mask is to prevent you from touching your face with your contaminated hands.

    By Blogger Beng, At May 07, 2009 12:47 pm  

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