Will face masks prevent flu?

The CBC asks, “Will face masks protect you from the flu?”

After the outbreak of SARS in 2003, Canada’s Public Health Agency commissioned a group of medical experts to research transmission of flu viruses and how to stop it.

Their report concluded that the scientific evidence remains unclear about how precisely flu is spread and what role exposure to bigger or smaller virus particles plays in transmission. It found that flu viruses are mainly transmitted over short distances and that more people become infected by inhaling viruses than by touching contaminated surfaces.

The report was produced by the Council of Canadian Academies, chaired by Dr. Donald Low, microbiologist in chief at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto.

One of the questions the panel considered was whether face masks would offer protection in the event of a pandemic.

The verdict: yes, to an extent.

…a face mask — or personal protective respiratory equipment — is the final layer of protection when exposure to an infected person is required or unavoidable. . The primary elements of protection are “engineering and administrative controls.”

Engineering controls include physical controls such as ventilation requirements in buildings, and relative humidity and temperature controls. Administrative controls are measures that individuals handle, such as handwashing, covering your mouth when you sneeze or cough or seeking medical care when you’re sick.

People who are carrying flu virus release it in tiny drops of water when they sneeze, cough, or even talk. So wearing a mask, even a plain surgical mask, can help them to keep from spreading flu to others. The virus lives for short times on fabric.

N95 mask with valve

N95 mask with valve

Ordinary masks can be effective for up to eight hours, but once taken off, they must be replaced.

The N95 mask is more effective. It stops about 95% of organisms. But that makes it hard to breathe through. That means that people don’t like to wear them properly. A more expensive version has a valve for exhaling, which makes it cooler and more comfortable.

Finally, Filligent is offering a BioMask that is designed to kill Influenza A viruses, remain germ-free when touched, and in general stand up to the rigors of pandemics.

People who are infected with flu leave the virus on whatever they touch, even before they are showing symptoms. The flu virus survives for up to 48 hours on a nonporous surface such as steel. Try not to touch things unnecessarily.Consider wearing gloves: a friend reported that when he kept his  gloves on in the subway during winter, he caught 40% fewer colds.

When you come home, wash your hands and change your clothes.

Also, learn not to touch your face or eyes. A virus can easily penetrate mucous membranes,  such as those around your eyes and in your mouth.

Ordinary masks can be effective for up to eight hours, but once taken off, they must be replaced.

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