In Y 2012, researchers from the University of Michigan noted a need to establish the efficacy of non pharmaceutical measures for mitigating pandemics, in this case, influenza.
They studied whether the use of face masks and hand hygiene reduced rates of influenza and influenza-like illness (ILI) in 1,178 students living in university residence halls.
The students were assigned to 1 of 3 groups: face mask and hand hygiene, face mask only or control group during the study.
During weeks 3 to 6 of the study, a 75% reduction in influenza-like illness was noted among the students using hand hygiene and wearing masks in residence halls.
“Face masks and hand hygiene combined may reduce the rate of ILI and confirmed influenza in community settings,” the researchers concluded, adding, “These non pharmaceutical measures should be recommended in crowded settings at the start of an influenza pandemic.”
The study used “standard medical procedure masks with ear loops,” which would likely be comparable to surgical masks.
These are loose-fitting pieces of cloth designed to protect 1 from droplets, which are released when someone coughs or sometimes when they talk.
While the specifics of how COVID-19 coronavirus is spread are still being investigated, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the virus is thought to spread mainly from person-to-person contact, including through respiratory droplets that are produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.
“These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs,” the CDC states.
N95 respirators offer an even higher level of protection, as they’re designed with a full seal intended to protect against airborne or aerosolized pathogens.
As noted, N95 respirators should be reserved for healthcare workers performing a limited number of procedures that may expose them to aerosolized pathogens, while surgical masks offer sufficient protection even for most hospital workers and for the public.
Even wearing homemade masks can offer protection, and as they can be made from materials that are readily available, they should not carry the stigma that 1 is taking a mask away from a healthcare worker in need.
Researchers with Cambridge University tested common household materials for their effectiveness as masks by exposing them to different sized particles.
Surgical masks were most effective, but all of the materials offered some protection even against very small bacteriophages that are even smaller than coronavirus.
Surgical masks were 89% effective against 0.02-micron bacteriophage particles, while other materials were rated as follows:
|Vacuum cleaner bag — 86%||Dish towel — 73%|
|Cotton blend T-shirt — 70%||Antimicrobial pillowcase — 68%|
|Linen — 62%||Pillowcase — 57%|
|Silk — 54%||100% cotton T-Shirt — 51%|
|Scarf — 49%|
The study, which was published in the journal Disaster Medicine and Public Health Preparedness, concluded that even homemade masks are better than no protection at all. Researchers explained:
“The median-fit factor of the homemade masks was one-half that of the surgical masks. Both masks significantly reduced the number of microorganisms expelled by volunteers, although the surgical mask was 3 times more effective in blocking transmission than the homemade mask …
Our findings suggest that a homemade mask should only be considered as a last resort to prevent droplet transmission from infected individuals, but it would be better than no protection.”
A noted virologist Tweeted that the public should know that does matter with COVID-19 exposure. “Masks can help anyone,” he wrote, “reducing amount of virus released (even by breathing) or taken in,” adding that a person’s immune system is more effective if the infection starts with a low dose.
A Y 2008 study published in PLOS One confirmed that homemade masks are useful.
Researchers compared personal respirators, surgical masks and homemade masks worn during a variety of activities and found, “Any type of general mask use is likely to decrease viral exposure and infection risk on a population level, in spite of imperfect fit and imperfect adherence.”
Another study from Y 2004 found that the use of masks was strongly protective against SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) in Beijing. Those who always wore a mask when going out had a 70% reduction in risk compared with those who never wore a mask.
In an opinion piece for the NY-T’s on 31 March, columnist Farhad Manjoo wrote, “It is time to make your own face mask,” and suggested wearing 1 not only in a pinch but as you go about your daily life.
MSM stated that in the coming weeks, more governments may begin advising the public to wear face masks to protect against COVID-19 coronavirus. Ivan Hung, an infectious diseases specialist at the Hong Kong University School of Medicine, explained:
“If you look at the data in Hong Kong, wearing a mask is probably the most important thing in terms of infection control. And it not only brings down the cases of coronaviruses, it also brings down the influenza. In fact, this is now the influenza season, and we hardly see any influenza cases. And that is because the masks actually protected not only against coronaviruses but also against the influenza viruses as well.”
In the US, the use of surgical masks by the public has been stigmatized. However, wearing homemade masks is a step that virtually everyone can take to protect not only themselves but also the communities around them, especially when used in conjunction with other infection control measures, like hand-washing, a diet of Real food and pure water, no alcohol or sugary soft drinks.
Have a healthy weekend, stay home!