Do Surgical Masks Prevent You From Catching a Cold or Flu?

January 30, 2020
Woman wearing a surgical mask

© Enzo Nguyen@Tercer Ojo Photography

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The coronavirus has been a feature in the news as the world looks to isolate the virus, which is highly contagious. One striking feature seen are people wearing surgical masks when outside. But so surgical masks prevent the spread of viruses? There is not a simple yes or no answer.  The main job of a surgical mask is not to protect yourself from other people, but to protect other people from your germs. When you cough or sneeze, all those droplets will end up on the inside of your mask. This reduces the amount of potentially virus-laden droplets that people around you are exposed to, which is why surgeons wear masks during surgery (you wouldn’t want somebody breathing into your open wounds, even if they’re relatively healthy) and it’s why, if you go to a clinic when you have cold or flu symptoms, you might be asked to wear a mask in the waiting room. But if you are healthy and want to employ a line of defense in you catching a cold or flu, you'll need to use a tight-fitting N95 mask. The letter indicates the mask's function when exposed to petroleum, with "N" meaning it is not resistant to petroleum, "R" means somewhat and "P" meaning strongly resistant to petroleum.  The number indicates the percentage of particles it blocks, which includes particles as small as a single virus. When you breathe in wearing a N95 mask, it filters the air and particles above a certain size cannot get through. In fact, hospital staff treating suspected coronavirus patients are also recommended to wear an N95 mask to see those patients. The bottom line from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is they don’t recommend either one for everyday protection from other people’s germs. Constant hand washing, covering your face when coughing and/or sneezing and not touching your eyes, nose, or mouth if your hands are not clean. And while you may see many Asian cultures wearing surgical masks, they have become more of a fashion statement for the younger generations.  However a general understanding of a person wearing a surgical mask in public is that the person wearing it is not feeling well and a sign to stay clear.

SOURCE: Vitals

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