Many people are worried about the global spread of the Wuhan coronavirus, and are wondering – can face masks / surgical masks protect them against the flu? Let’s find out!
Coronavirus = NOT Influenza
First, let’s get this straight. The Wuhan coronavirus is different from the influenza virus that causes yearly outbreaks all over the world. They may have similar symptoms, but they are two different virus families.
The influenza A viruses that cause seasonal flu pandemics vary from 80 to 120 nanometers in diameter, with the smaller viruses adopting an elliptical shape.
The coronavirus, of which the Wuhan coronavirus is just one of seven known to infect humans, has a helical capsid that measures about 120 nanometers in diameter.
Unfortunately, the Wuhan coronavirus is new and has no vaccine. So people are opting to use face masks or surgical / medical masks. But how effective are these masks?
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Face Masks vs Surgical Masks vs N95 Respirators
Now, we need to differentiate face masks from surgical or medical masks. There are many face masks that are worn for fashion. They are usually reusable, being made from washable cotton, and often lack a filter.
A proper 3-ply surgical or medical mask, on the other hand, has three layers – each with very specific functions :
- an outer hydrophobic layer, which repels water, blood and body fluids,
- a middle filter layer that is designed to filter bacteria, and
- an inner hydrophilic layer, which absorbs water, sweat and spit
There are also 2-ply face masks that are usually made from the same material – fabric or polypropylene or other kinds of non-woven material. There is NO FILTER layer.
Finally, we have N95 respirators that are designed to form a tight seal over your mouth and nose, and will filter 95% of particles with a median diameter of 0.3 microns.
Surgical Masks Are Effective Against Influenza
Now, the Wuhan coronavirus is a new virus, whose mechanism of infection is still being investigated. But there has been a number of studies on the effectiveness of surgical masks in preventing the flu – influenza.
A new CDC-sponsored study, published in JAMA on 3 September 2019, showed that surgical masks are as effective as N95 respirators in preventing influenza infections amongst healthcare workers.
This was the largest study ever done, involving over 2800 healthcare personnel in multiple cities across the United States.
While more studies will be conducted to confirm their findings, the evidence appears to show that we can rely on cheap 3-ply surgical masks to protect against the flu, even though they are still useless against the haze and air pollution.
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Can Face Masks Protect Us Against The Wuhan Coronavirus?
But are surgical masks equally effective against the Wuhan coronavirus, or other coronaviruses in general?
That is hard to say for sure at the moment, because the Wuhan coronavirus’ modes of transmission are still being ascertained.
Based on what we know so far, it is probably safe to say that surgical masks (NOT fashion masks) will offer at least some protection against infection by the Wuhan coronavirus.
This was confirmed by Li Lanjuan, a Chinese National Health Commission expert, who said that “ordinary people only needed to wear face masks“.
The Wuhan coronavirus is larger than, or as large as, the influenza A virus, so it is likely to be blocked by the filter layer. In addition, using a surgical mask will help prevent you from touching your face.
This is important because many people do not get infected by breathing in viral particles floating in the air, but by touching their mouth and nose with their contaminated hands.
So in addition to wearing surgical masks, you should always wash your hands with soap or a hand sanitiser.
Where To Buy Surgical Masks
Before you rush out to buy surgical masks, please make sure they are proper 3-layer surgical masks, and not 2-ply face masks or fashion masks. Here are some online purchase options :
- Wuhan Coronavirus : Hand Sanitiser or Soap? Which Is Better?
- Surgical Mask : How To CORRECTLY Wear + Remove!
- Can Face Masks Protect Us Against The Flu / Influenza?
- How To Wear A Surgical Mask : The Hoax & The Truth!
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