What Research Says About The Effectiveness of Face Masks?

In this world of rapid industrialization, we are constantly exposed to pollutants that are the consequence of the industrial activity. The air, as a result, is loaded with harmful substances that can lead to severe medical complications if timely precautionary methods are not executed. A case in point is the smog that engulfed the subcontinent region. Busy Metropolitan cities of India and Pakistan, mainly New Delhi and Lahore witnessed the surrounding air filled with exhaust fumes. The situation became deplorable to the extent where carrying out daily work became a major hindrance. The pollutant air forced a number of people into the hospital while a handful of people died unable to fight off the complications that developed consequently. When the prevention team came in the picture and advised the people on the measures that could be employed to minimize the risks caused, there seemed a ray of hope that could push the population out of this misery. One such way suggested was the use of masks. The approach may not be comprehensive enough to deal with all the problems in entirety, but on the contrary, it could certainly help in stopping the widespread of diseases caused by the pollutants.

Dating back to 2009, around 20 states in the United States were governed by an outbreak of Swine Flu. When 4000 people died and a further 22 million were known to be affected with this condition, President Barack Obama declared a national emergency to take immediate steps for curbing the problem. Since no vaccine was medically approved at that time, it was important to resort to other preventive techniques that can limit the number of victims. Yet again, preventive masks gained prominence as one viable way for hindering another major outbreak.

This article will explore the benefits of using masks, whether this technique will resolve most of the medical issues or will merely fester the complications. It is important to further understand that regardless of the effectiveness, masks by no means are a substitute for other treatment procedures. For any illness (be it be swine flu), a more holistic medical approach is needed. Lastly, the advice of a professional should not be underscored. It is always better to consult before self-diagnosing!

What do the Research Studies Claim?

The issue of effectiveness of masks is not a new dilemma that has worried the field of medical science. For quite a time now, a number of research studies have been concluded that have oriented their findings on drawing an analysis between a number of contagious diseases and the incumbent preventive techniques. Although a final conclusive evidence still awaits, some of the results do portray a fortunate picture in favour of masks. In 2008, when the Swine Flu was in its early outbreak stage, a group of scientists predicted the problem to be intensifying in the near future. As a result, they directed themselves towards a number of clinical trials, results of which could be practically applied in curbing the menace of Swine flu. Professor M.Fasher, D.Dwyer and N.Ovdin along with few other prominent medical scientists conducted a trial to test for the effectiveness of masks in the prevention of influenza virus. People infected with the virus were made to sit with those with masks and those without as a way of testing whether viral transmission can be effectively hindered or not. The findings revealed that masks if worn properly, could lessen the chances of transmission by 80%. In fact, the researchers repeated the experiment with different types of masks and surprisingly there was a little deviation in the success rate! The study was later on published in the International Journal of Infectious Disease and  Professor M Fasher strongly believed that the application of the findings could have been utilized in preventing Swine Flu from becoming a major outbreak.

A journal published in the Annals of Internal Medicine provides with another cohesive example in that regard. Yet again the data available would analyze the effectiveness of nonpharmaceutical interventions (e.g. masks) in obstructing the transmission of influenza virus. As opposed to the former finding published in the International Journal of Infectious Disease, this study was conducted in Hong Kong. The city that hails itself as the proponent of the free market economy, characterized by thousands of industries present. 400 people from different households volunteered for the experiment, including people who were tested for the influenza virus. The conclusion that was put forward supported the use of surgical masks asserting that by wearing it, people reduce their chances of infliction by almost 70%.

In 2012, a team of medical scientists associated with the University of Michigan conducted their research on a larger sample population. The study claims to have the most accurate findings, results being published in the Public Library of Science. The researchers received validation, when a number of renowned pathologist in the USA acknowledged the facts that were presented.  The experiment was performed on a total of 1100 participants. For analyzing purposes, a portion of the population was instructed to use facemasks and hand sanitizer and were then exposed to the influenza causing microbes. The findings astonishingly revealed that around 75% of the population expressed no signs or symptoms of the virus. However, the conclusion drawn through this research argued that facemasks alone may not provide with a significant advantage. Only when used along with hand/body sanitizer, can one obstruct a perfect response to the influenza and other contagious illnesses.

The three aforementioned studies, backed with evidence, are sufficient material to support the usage of facemasks. Thereby, in instances when the outbreak of any disease remains a possibility, the onus of preventing  the spread of the microbes through these masks is imperative

Few Guidelines

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have released guidelines for fighting off the seasonal influenza problem. The guidelines make it necessary for every health worker (treating the patient(s)) to properly cover their face with a mask in normal circumstances. Although, exempted from usage when carrying out any medical procedure. CDC also emphasizes on a country wide campaign to aware the population of the symptoms of respiratory problems and encouraging the use of face masks.

Certainly, facemasks can be taken as a suitable preventive measure in curbing contagious illnesses but only when they are worn properly. While studies reveal the innumerable benefits of following the procedure, at the same time, it highlights the consequences of an improper wear. The mask should be worn in such a manner that there remains no passageway for any microbes to enter the body.

In addition, there are other guidelines which need to be accounted for:

  1. A facemask is necessary when within the six feet boundary of the infected person
  2. Place the mask as to cover the nose, mouth &
  3. When visiting the doctor, or going out anywhere, wear the mask to prevent others from being infected
  4. Crowded places should be avoided
  5. Masks are not meant to be reused. Once you do not feel the need to wear it, dispose of properly. Wash your handsa afterwards








Areeba Hussain

Areeba is an independent medical and healthcare writer. For the last three years, she is writing for Tophealthjournal. Her prime areas of interest are diseases, medicine, treatments, and alternative therapies. Twitter @Areeba94789300

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