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H1N1 Prevention: Do Masks Really Work? | Medilogy
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H1N1 Prevention: Do Masks Really Work?

The H1N1 Influenza, more commonly known as the Swine flu, has swept across the globe, leaving behind it not only death but a heightened fear of procuring the lethal virus.  Newscasts constantly display hundreds of people wearing masks in an attempt to protect themselves from airborne droplets holding the virus, but do these masks really work?

As previously discussed in our Swine Flu Overview the H1N1 influenza holds the potential to become a large scale pandemic if proper prevention is not implemented by both individuals and governmental agencies.  As of now, humans have no natural immunity to the virus, allowing its spread much faster  then the regular seasonal flu.  While the seasonal flu usually effects those that are weak or old, the Swine flu has a much higher rate of lethally effecting the younger and stronger.  A large scale pandemic across the globe would make prevention difficult considering the limited amounts of medication (Tamiflu + Vaccines) currently in distribution. There are a number of techniques individuals can implement in their daily routine to strengthen their defenses against the virus, however, a popular one has become surgical and/or N95 respirator masks.

swineflumasksSo the real question is, do these masks make a bit of a difference?  Surgical masks are unavailable in many areas now due to their high demand, especially in foreign 3rd world countries with denser populations.  As of now there have not been any studies conducted to validate whether or not surgical masks have ANY benefit whatsoever, but personally I can tell you that they are almost useless.  Airborne droplets containing the virus, and the virus itself can pass through the large pores in the mask quite easily.  Also most surgical masks are tied on with four strings.  This leaves plenty of openings around the edge of the mask for the virus to slip through.  These masks were created to prevent the transfer of any specimen from the doctor to the patient, not the other way around.  Another growing problem with the masks primarily in areas like India and China is their disposal.  They can be find lying around on the street, and individuals have reported reusing their masks.  First of all reusing the mask almost eliminates its purpose.  Second, a mask with a possible H1N1 strain that is not properly disposed of could be hazardous to others.

Side note: If your mask has ‘Hello Kitty’ on the front, alligator teeth, a smiley face, artificial nose, than please don’t purchase the masks with hopes that it will protect you.

While surgical masks are utterly pointless, I do see some use of the N95 respirator masks.  These masks are created with much smaller pores, that make it more difficult for viral strains to pass through.  However, the CDC and WHO do not recommended these masks for everyone.  It is best if they are used by those that are in close contact with individuals that have procured the virus.  The mask is also more expensive than surgical masks, making it more difficult to attain for those in poverty stricken areas where the pandemic has begun to strike the hardest.  The same problems that apply to surgical masks apply to these also, people tend to reuse the mask or improperly dispose of them.

What’s my personal opinion? I wouldn’t bother with the surgical masks, however, if I was in a facility that has individuals with the H1n1 influenza, then I may just consider buying one, however, am I willing to purchase a new mask after each use? Probably not.  So that goes out the window.

At the end of the day the best methods for prevention is washing your hands and staying healthy.  For more tips and an in-depth overview of the swine flu read Swine Flu: An Overview

Also consider reading the CDC’s recommendations on who should and should not use a respirator mask.

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