Can medical masks offer protection from swine flu?

Open any newspaper to find out about the current state of swine flu pandemic and we would find people wearing face masks looking back with a hint of worry in their eyes. The outbreak of swine flu has caused a lot of concern in the minds of all, around the world. People on their way to work, in crowded subways or even while walking dogs or jogging can be seen wearing medical masks. There are residents who have been stocking up face masks. However, are medical masks of any help in protecting us from swine flu? This is one thing that needs to be understood and a decision on using the mask taken.

Swine flu is contagious. It spreads mainly when an infected person comes in contact or you touch something that has been used by that person. When a person suffering from swine flu sneezes or coughs the virus spreads through the droplets. If you are within a distance of 3 feet you may catch the virus and may be infected.

Similarly another point to remember is that if a person sneezes into his hands and touches any object the virus is transferred to that object. Now if you touch that object and then touch your face then you are vulnerable to the infection. Personal hygiene habits like washing hands and use of clean tissues every time are helpful in preventing easy spread of virus. Precautionary measures are what we can use to prevent infection.

One of the common features of this pandemic is the use of medical masks. Many people in all countries are using these masks to protect themselves. Nevertheless, are these masks the answer or solution to the problem? It is not entirely possible to stop the virus from spreading even when you are using a medical mask. However, it offers some protection if you are using the right mask. At the same time you cannot be safe just because you are wearing a mask in a highly crowded place.

Moreover, it also depends on what type of mask you are using. There are soft, loose fitting surgical or medical masks as well as form fitting masks known as the N-95 respirators made from spun plastic fiber. The medical masks generally are used to protect others from the cough spray of the wearer. The respirators on the other hand can filter about 95 percent of tiny particles including the influenza viruses.

Whichever type of medical masks you use they have to be worn properly and consistently. You cannot rely on the masks to prevent spread of the virus entirely. Measures like washing hands regularly, staying away from sick people, avoiding crowded places are a part of the preventive steps. Similarly, even if you are wearing the mask but have not covered both your mouth and nose properly, in that case infection may be possible. There is limited evidence to prove that medical masks are a great protection against swine flu. However, it does help in cutting the risk if you are wearing them correctly and consistently in combination with other measures. You may find very good quality medical masks on Disposable masks are preferable than washable ones and often cost much less.

It is very important to understand that only using medical masks cannot help prevent infection entirely. Unless there is careful, correct and consistent use of the masks you are not entirely safe from the virus. However, using it does help make you feel safer and largely in control.