Just Wearing a Mask Does Not Enough To Protect You From Corona Virus

Masks do not work for airtight devices, so that very small virus droplets in the air can still penetrate.

A passenger wears a face mask and swimming goggles when he arrives at the Hong Kong train station on January 29, 2020. (Image Credit: REUTERS / Tyrone Siu)

Canadian health officials have stressed that the risk of corona virus transmission is not high, but after three confirmed cases, many people are looking for ways to protect themselves and many are turning to surgical masks.

On Amazon and Alibaba, a step to prevent the corona virus from spreading is to use an anti-virus mask and this leaves the website out of stock on Wednesday. Throughout China, Hong Kong and Singapore, people queue for hours in shops and pharmacies hoping to get the masks. People from San Francisco to Orlando say they can’t find surgical masks in ordinary stores and only in specialty stores

Meanwhile, according to media reports, many Chinese people living abroad have bought masks to send back to their family members or resold them online. Protective equipment was even sent from major cities of Canada, such as Montreal and Toronto. But can a protective mask really protect you from this new infectious disease? This is all you need to know.

First, does the mask work?

For most people, no. Eric Litvack, chief medical officer for preventive and controlling medicine at the Montreal Public Health Department said: “Masks that you buy at pharmacies can never provide total protection against airborne viruses,”.

“But masks can help if worn by people who are sick, because they act as a barrier to stop small droplets that are released when they cough or sneeze,” Litvack said.

In China, where thousands of people have been infected and may not realize it, masks can reduce the spread of the virus, he said. But the mask does not provide an airtight seal, so small droplets that hang in the air can still penetrate.

Tourists wear masks to prevent transmission of the corona virus in Seoul, South Korea, January 29, 2020. (Image Credit: REUTERS / Heo Ran)

“Doctors don’t recommend the general public to wear masks,” said Charles Frenette, medical director of infection control at McGill University Health Center. “Because once a mask is used by a sick person, it can be contaminated and must be removed immediately. People who are not aware of this, can touch the mask with their hands or leave it lying around and will be infected.

In addition, people tend not to practice the right way when wearing a mask. For example, someone who wears a mask might still touch his mouth, and that is at risk of being infected.

People queue to buy protective masks at the Watsons store in Hong Kong on Wednesday, January 29, 2020. (Image credit: Paul Yeung / Bloomberg)

Dr. Sohail Ghandi, President of the Ontario Medical Association, said: “Preliminary data about a new form of virus show that masks will not be very effective.” “Maybe masks have helped ward off the spread of SARS during a deadly outbreak in 2003, but research shows that the same thing won’t happen to viruses now.” Ghandi added: “Hand washing is more effective than wearing a face mask in the presence of this particular virus, especially if you are not infected.”

Then why do medical workers wear masks in hospitals?

In that case, they work as part of an overall strategy to limit the spread of disease.

At McGill University Health Center, medical workers who treat people with respiratory diseases such as influenza or rhinovirus use “drip-prevention measures” such as wearing surgical masks, gloves, eye protection and clothing. For the more virulent ones, such as chicken pox, measles, tuberculosis, ebola and the new corona virus, workers must wear N95 masks, which provide more coverage and have better filters.

The study, conducted during the SARS epidemic in 2003, found that for medical professionals, wearing any type of mask compared to not wearing a mask, could reduce the likelihood of illness by about 80 percent, said Mark Loeb, an infectious disease specialist at McMaster University in Hamilton.

Currently, the World Health Organization and the Canadian Public Health Agency recommend those who treat patients using medical masks, while the United States recommends N95 masks.

What must be done to protect themselves?

First, don’t panic. Anyone who is infected and those associated with him, will be monitored and kept in isolation.

“The best thing to do is wash your hands often and practice proper respiratory hygiene,” Litvack said. This means when you cough or sneeze, then get rid of your nasal discharge and then wash your hands. And avoid touching your mouth or nose so as not to transmit pathogens to your hands.

Toronto Health Officer, Dr. Eileen de Villa called for an increase in hand washing, but noted that the arrival of the corona virus was not the main reason behind the suggestion. He said washing his hands with soap and water, plus limiting contact with someone’s face, made sense during the current flu season.

As for other actions that must be known to limit the spread of all diseases in the air, namely encouraging people when they are sick, especially regarding respiratory diseases, it should stay at home and limit transmission. That also gives a person the chance to recover faster.

Sources: The Canadian Press, The Montreal Gazette, Bloomberg

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