Will A Mask Protect Against Swine Flu?

Masks Best For Containing Coughs, Sneezes

POSTED: 3:12 pm EDT April 27, 2009


As reports spread of a new influenza strain that could become a pandemic, people in the U.S. began to wonder if they would need to take precautions that helped stem the spread of SARS a few years ago: surgical masks in public.While they may be part of the plan for protecting yourself and others, masks can’t do the job on their own.In Las Vegas, KVVU-TV reported that medical supply stores saw a run on surgical masks.”People are starting to get a little scared over this thing,” said Sue Welch, an employee at Everything Medical. Masks sell for $2 apiece or a box of 20 for $29.95.”Since we opened at 9:00 we had 10 calls and already four people have come in,” Welch said. She compared the early panic over swine flu to past outbreaks of bird flu and said many of the customers are travelers with flights booked to Mexico.U.S. health officials say masks aren’t needed in the workplace.Would they help you even if you wore one?Dr. Mark Gendreau said in the New York Times that typical face masks filter about 62 percent of small particles, though you can get professional-grade masks that stop 98 percent of material.He said masks do not do their best work in protecting the wearer. But by stopping virus-laden droplets from people coughing or sneezing, they can help stop those who are infected from spreading the disease to others.”Bring an extra mask along, and kindly offer it to anyone coughing or sneezing who looks sick. This will keep any droplets from landing on you,” he said.An earlier guide based on the avian flu also suggests wearing a mask when caring for those who are already ill. And if you do wear a mask, you should wash your hands before and after putting it on or taking it off.Since masks are not considered necessary — let alone required — health officials suggest taking the normal precautions that help fight the spread of disease during seasonal flu season or any time of year.Richard Besser, the acting head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said steps taught to kids such as frequent hand washing and covering your mouth when coughing or sneezing help. People with a fever should try to avoid contact with others.
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