Does wearing a surgical mask help prevent the flu?
With the Wuhan pneumonia outbreak spreading further and further in China, health authorities of the Middle Kingdom are recommending its citizens to wear face masks at all times in public areas. But do surgical masks really help prevent the flu?
For expats, the unusual sight of streets filled with people wearing antiviral face masks may seem eerily apocalyptic. Seeing the drastic measures people are taking to prevent getting infected by this new virus, you may start to question whether surgical masks really work in preventing the flu. In this article by Pacific Prime China, you’ll get all your face mask-related questions answered.
What are surgical masks supposed to do?
Surgical masks, sometimes called medical masks, flu masks, or dental masks, are meant to prevent the spread of diseases in a healthcare environment. In particular, surgical masks are designed to limit the spread of airborne diseases such as the common cold, influenza, and coronaviruses.
Airborne viruses are often transmitted through air droplets that are released after an infected person coughs, sneezes, or even breathes. To prevent person-to-person transmission, surgical masks have a waterproof layer to prevent these contaminated air droplets from entering our bodies.
Do antiviral face masks really work?
Medical masks were first widely worn in the medical community during the Spanish flu outbreak some 100 years ago. Since then, a plethora of studies have emerged, showing that medical masks are indeed highly effective in preventing the spread of diseases.
- A 2008 study involving 286 individuals found that flu masks reduced the likelihood of getting infected with influenza-like illnesses by 80%.
- Meanwhile, another study of 1,000 students living in university dorms found that wearing masks and regular handwashing reduced the risk of getting infected by influenza by 75%.
Still, the answer to whether flu masks really work will depend on what you mean by ‘really work’:
- Do flu masks help prevent getting infected by the flu and coronavirus? A resounding YES.
- Are these masks all you need to stay safe from the flu? Absolutely NO.
To clear the air on whether surgical masks really work, this is what medical experts have to say about wearing face masks in public places to avoid the flu:
“Wearing a mask is one of the ways to prevent you from spreading germs to others when you are not feeling well. A mask can also help to prevent you from inhaling harmful germs and developing further complications.”
“Wearing a mask is one of the measures to prevent respiratory tract infections. Protect yourselves and protect others by always keep your hands clean and wear a mask as appropriate.”
- Dr. James Steckelberg, Mayo Clinic, the US
“Flu masks may help block airborne germs, and they may also prevent the transmission of germs from your hands to your mouth or nose.”
- Dr. Wilson Lam, Chiron Medical Clinic, Hong Kong
“If you cannot avoid the throngs, wear a face mask – and ensure you’re wearing it properly.”
Here’s the bottom line. Yes, surgical masks can be an effective tool to prevent the spread of diseases such as the coronavirus and influenza, but for them to stop viruses from entering your body, it requires 2 things:
- Masks need to be worn properly.
- They need to be complemented with other disease prevention methods.
What’s the right way to put on a surgical mask?
Flu masks will work if and only if they are worn correctly. With that said, let’s go through some easy steps to make sure that you’re truly protecting yourself when you go through all the trouble to purchase and put on a surgical mask.
7 easy steps to put on and take off an antiviral face mask:
- Wash your hands thoroughly with soap before touching the mask.
- Make sure the mask straps go over your ear loops and sit behind the ear.
- Cover your chin, mouth, and nose with the mask.
- Press along the metal strip across your nose bridge.
- After using the mask for a day, remove it by holding the ear loops.
- Dispose the mask into a bin.
- Wash your hands thoroughly with soap afterward.
Another important tip is to make sure that you get the appropriate mask size. Oversized masks will leave gaps in your protection, literally. Meanwhile, too small of a size and you’ll struggle to breathe properly while wearing the mask. The best way to find out which mask size is best for your face is to ask pharmacies near you for surgical mask recommendations.
What are other disease prevention methods to compliment face masks?
Antiviral face masks alone will not prevent you from getting infected by the flu or the coronavirus. Instead, you’ll have to use a number of different tactics to minimize the chances of getting infected during a nation-wide outbreak. Here are some tips from medical experts that will help keep you safe during outbreaks and flu seasons.
- Avoid crowded places, especially those with poor ventilation.
- During outbreaks, stay home and avoid all public places unless absolutely necessary.
- Wash your hands thoroughly and regularly, especially every time you touch an unclean object like handrails and public chairs.
- Exercise regularly throughout the year.
- Get adequate sleep consistently.
- Eat a balanced diet.
What other preparations should I make?
Finally, you’ll have to make the appropriate preparations for when the unfortunate occurs – you’ve followed all the correct preventative methods, you’ve even purchased several new surgical masks, but somehow, you still got sick.
Recovering from the flu or the coronavirus can take up to several weeks of hospitalization. For private hospitals in China that are geared for expats, this can mean expensive medical bills that you’ll have to make out-of-pocket payments for. This is why it’s recommended that you get private health insurance in China. To make sure you find the most cost-effective plan out there, it’s best to consult an insurance broker that will be able to compare health insurance plans in China for you.
In his free time, Phuwit enjoys reading and playing badminton. He also loves a good cup of coffee.
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