Should You Be Wearing a Mask?

By , 10 November, 2009, 6 Comments

N95-RespiratorThere are quite a bit of confusion over this matter.  With all the H1N1, or the swine flu, all around, shouldn’t we all be wearing masks?  There is definitely some “swine panic” in Mongolia as prices of garlic, horse meat, “aarts”, and seabuckthorne juices have skyrocketed in response to the H1N1 flu.  Many people are wearing masks in Mongolia.  Some organizations are even going as far as requiring people to wear masks.  As a result, I set out to do a brief research into the matter: do I or you really need to be wearing masks?  Should you?

After doing some research on the internet, I think it is pretty clear that the experts don’t really think it is necessary for you to wear masks if you are  a healthy adult (as in a person not included in an “increased risk group”).  I got this information from the US Government organization Center for Disease Control website.

Here are the groups determined as increased risk group:

  • Children younger than 5 years old
  • Persons aged 65 years or older
  • Children and adolescents (younger than 18 years) who are receiving long-term aspirin therapy and who might be at risk for experiencing Reye syndrome after influenza virus infection
  • Pregnant women
  • Adults and children who have asthma, chronic pulmonary, cardiovascular, hepatic, hematological, neurologic, neuromuscular, or metabolic disorders such as diabetes;
  • Adults and children who have immunosuppression (including immunosuppression caused by medications or by HIV)
  • Residents of nursing homes and other chronic-care facilities.

And, here is CDC’s guidance on wearing masks:

Setting Persons not at increased risk of severe illness from influenza
(Non-high risk persons)
Persons at increased risk of severe illness from influenza (High-Risk Persons) 3
Community
No 2009 H1N1 in community Facemask/respirator not recommended Facemask/respirator not recommended
2009 H1N1 in community: not crowded setting Facemask/respirator not recommended Facemask/respirator not recommended
2009 H1N1 in community: crowded setting Facemask/respirator not recommended Avoid setting.
If unavoidable, consider facemask or respirator 4 5
Home
Caregiver to person with influenza-like illness Facemask/respirator not recommended Avoid being caregiver. If unavoidable, use facemask or respirator 4 5
Other household members in home Facemask/respirator not recommended Facemask/respirator not recommended
Occupational (non-health care)
No 2009 H1N1 in community Facemask/respirator not recommended Facemask/respirator not recommended
2009 H1N1 in community Facemask/respirator not recommended but could be considered under certain circumstances 4 5 Facemask/respirator not recommended but could be considered under certain circumstances 4 5
Occupational (health care) 6
Caring 7 for persons with known, probable or suspected 2009 H1N1 or influenza-like illness Respirator Consider temporary reassignment. Respirator

It seems that wearing masks is NOT recommended in MOST situations.  So, if we cannot wear masks, what are we supposed to do?

Here are some simple daily prevention tips:

  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.*
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread this way.
  • Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
  • If you are sick with flu-like illness, CDC recommends that you stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone except to get medical care or for other necessities. (Your fever should be gone without the use of a fever-reducing medicine.) Keep away from others as much as possible to keep from making others sick.

The takeaway

If you are a healthy person between the ages of 10 and 60, you are probably OK to NOT wear masks in vast majority of circumstances.  If you are sick or are sneezing, you are well advised to wear a mask or to sneeze into tissue, your sleeve, etc.  In any case, wash your hands with warm soap & water for 20 seconds and do not touch your mouth or your eyes.  It probably wouldn’t hurt to eat healthy and sleep well also.

Sources:

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