A new research has shed light on the fact that surgical masks might help to avert an infected person from infecting others with any type of seasonal viruses, including the deadly corona virus. This research has helped in somewhat suppressing the much-stressed debate straddling between medical and cultural customs.
In the laboratory experiment conducted, the mask notably lowered the extent of different airborne viruses from infected people. The viruses were measured by capturing the breath of patients using “Gesundheit II machine”. The machine is a development of Dr. Don Milton, who is a professor for applied environmental health. Dr. Milton is also the author of this study that was published in the journal Nature Medicine. He also runs the Public Health Aerobiology, Virology, and Exhaled Biomarker Laboratory in the School of Public Health.
He has already deliberated about his research to the health officials of White House. Statements will soon be out from the seniors of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealing the agency was reassessing the usually given advice about surgical masks not being a good measure for protection against viruses outside the medical facilities. This debate rose when the working staff at the clinics was devoid of surgical masks because of scarcity in its supply.
The situation of wearing masks has also agitated the society as some retailers have snubbed the requests of their employees to wear masks for the fright of having a negative impact on the thoughts of their customers and cases of insults and physical attacks in several places in the United States and other places against Asians and Asian-Americans who wore masks, as a prevention, to avoid the disease.
In the study, held in the University of Hong Kong by Dr.Milton, before the Covid-19 pandemic, along with a student, it did not address the fact whether or not surgical masks could protect the person wearing a mask from infection. Instead, it was known how masks (the patient wearing the mask doesn’t show any signs of novel corona virus) could lower the spread of diseases like rhinoviruses, influenza, and corona viruses.
Back in 2013, Dr. Milton has revealed through one of his studies that surgical masks had the ability to limit the transmission of flu. He had also mentioned that this would not be as effective in real world.
Nonetheless, he says, the fact that they could help rationalizes a whole new view on whether everyone should be asked to wear a mask when they go out of their homes to buy groceries or to any other place for work during these times of pandemic.
Dr. Milton explains that, given normal situation, when there was no pandemic, statistically this wouldn’t be as effective. However, considering the situation of pandemic now, even a small percentage in the reduction of the spread in this disease is boon.
Earlier studies reveal that corona virus and many other types of respiratory contagions are spread with close contact. This means that such diseases can spread through contact and through big drops that come from sneeze or cough. This is the message that has constantly been shared with everyone.
Dr.Milton explains that this is just a hypothesis, and the recent studies and some older ones too reveal that small aerosolized droplets can diffuse through the air. So, for someone to get infected by corona virus a sneeze and cough are not the only ways but also by inhaling the breath of someone who already has this disease irrespective of the fact whether they are showing any signs and symptoms of Covid-19 or not. Surgical masks tend to hold most aerosolized virus that is exhaled by the infected person.
This study took place at the University of Hong Kong on 246 people who were suspected to have respiratory viral infections. It was a part of the thesis research of Dr. Nancy Leung, the lead author. The study was supervised by Dr. Cowling and Dr. Milton, who were the co-senior authors. The “Gesundheit II machine” equated the amount of virus exhaled by the patients with and without wearing a surgical mask.
Leung explained, in 111 people infected by a corona virus, or influenza virus or rhinovirus, surgical masks lessened the detectable virus in respiratory droplets for influenza virus and in aerosols and respiratory droplets for seasonal corona viruses. The effect of surgical masks did not show the same effect for rhinoviruses.
Even though the experiment was done before the Covid-19 pandemic the seasonal corona viruses and Covid-19 viruses are quite similar even in terms of particle size.
Surgical masks have the ability to lower the seasonal corona virus in aerosols and respiratory droplets. So, this means that surgical masks can definitely help bin slowing down the spread of this pandemic if the people infected with Covid-19 wear them, says senior author Professor Benjamin Cowling also the co-director of the World Health Organization Collaborating Centre for Infectious Disease Epidemiology and Control and the division head of epidemiology and biostatistics, School of Public Health, HKUMed.
Dr. Milton highlighted about other preventive measures revealed from this research that are better than Dr. Milton highlighted about other preventive measures revealed from this research that are better than surgical masks. These methods include good ventilation in public place and installation of UV-C lights near the ceiling of the building. These lights work along with the ceiling fans that pull the air towards the ceiling and kill the bacteria and viruses.
PPE’s (Personal Protective Equipment) such as N95 masks should not be considered as the main source of protection. Instead, they should be the last thing to approach when times call for desperate measures, Milton added.
Original written by Chris Carroll. Note: Content may be edited for readability and length.