Are face masks useful for stopping the spread of COVID-19?

Are face masks useful for stopping the spread of COVID-19?
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As COVID-19 continues to spread across the globe face masks are in high demand – but are they effective?

COVID-19 is arguably a preventable disease, and this pandemic is facilitating a huge surge in demand for medical face masks from both the general pubic and medical professionals. In this article, science-led consumer healthcare company Clinova, which has seen a massive increase in enquiries from the public about its face mask product, Covaflu, answers the most common question about the suitability of face masks.

Clinova says the most common question is about the suitability of different face mask types for minimising the risk of contracting COVID-19.

Can masks ‘flatten the curve’?

With efforts to ‘flatten the curve’ growing around the world, there has been debate as to the efficacy of wearing a face mask.

While staying two meters apart when out of your home on essential trips is imperative, as is washing your hands upon return, the benefits of a mask are tangible.

If wearing a mask prevents a high percentage of entering your respiratory system, their benefit is clear, says Clinova. While medical face masks do not guarantee 100% protection for the wearer, they still considerably reduce the likelihood of infection, and when working to flatten the curve, any reduction in transmission rates is welcome.

Face masks, surgical masks or respiratory masks?

Despite the safety advice of staying two metres apart from others, coughing and sneezing can project virus particulates six meters away.

Coughing and sneezing produce a “muzzle velocity” of 50 meters/second (for sneezing) or 10 m/s (for coughing), rendering the two-meter protection zone of little assistance without an additional barrier in the form of a mask.

However, unlike simple facemasks or surgical masks, respiratory masks protect against aqueous and oily aerosols, smoke and fine dust in. Their protective function is verified by the Europe-wide EN 149 standard and divided into FFP2 and FFP3, these standards verify protection from avian flu, SRAS, tuberculosis, as well as infection respiratory pathogens, and bacteria.

The two classifications also signify the number of particulates filtered out by the mask, the FFP2 filters 94% and FFP3 filters 99%. The more particles that need to be filtered, the greater the number of filter material layers. Consequently, masks in the higher protection classes are thicker, meaning breathing resistance is higher.

Particle-filtering face masks protect against particles, but not gases or vapours.

Arsalan Karim, Director of Research and Development of Clinova, explains: “Right now, there’s a lot of talk about different kinds of protective masks, and which one is best. While surgical masks protect against infectious agents transmitted by droplets, they do not protect against airborne infectious agents such as viruses, so they will not prevent the wearer from being potentially infected by COVID-19.

“However, the respirator face mask, which protects the wearer from aqueous and oily aerosols, smoke, and fine dust, is also more effective at protecting against airborne infectious agents such as COVID-19 and SARS. Respirator masks prevent viruses from entering the body through the mucous membranes of the mouth and nostrils.”

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5 COMMENTS

  1. I’m sorry I don’t have the specific answer. However, since having a Smartphone I have noticed that when I am talking I see tiny spots of saliva on my phone. They are about the size of the full stop on my Motorola keyboard or sometimes double that size. I only see them if the screen has gone black. These masks would stop those tiny droplets of saliva from landing on your face, nose, and mouth.

    Any mask is only as efficient as the way it is used, fitted, worn and discarded. The reason it can cause more spreading of the virus is because people don’t fit their masks properly and so are forever touching the outer contaminated surface to adjust it. Just watch TV and see this yourself. Also watch how many people wear them and then pull them down when talking to others – right at the time when it would have been the most important time to have it on.

    I think this type of mask is best used to protect others. If everyone wore them and fitted and used them CORRECTLY then at least it would stop people from coughing, sneezing, or just those tiny saliva drops from landing on your mouth and nose. So by wearing one CORRECTLY it would help prevent you from infecting others. The more people who wear them the less saliva droplets in the air.

    The N95 (grading used elsewhere) or even better the FFP3 (European grading system) RESPIRATOR type masks would help prevent you from being infected with COVID-19. N95 I believe filters out 95% of particles and FFP3 filters out 99% of particles. Other lower grade ones are graded FFP2 and FFP1. I strongly believe that FFP3 are needed for preventing COVID-19.

    Also there was a young Doctor in Wuhan who tried to warn the World about what was coming. He had worn all top quality Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) but he still contracted COVID-19. Before he died he still managed to speak out and his main messages were that he believed he had been infected with COVID-19 because he had not worn eye protection AND that the virus was NOTHING like the Flu viruses. People in China quite quickly were wearing their swimming goggles to protect the virus from infecting them through their eyes. What I can’t understand is why in the UK this information doesn’t seem to have been shared and Doctors and Nurses are STILL often NOT protecting their eyes. I can’t comment on the situation in other countries.

    If you are going to wear a mask to protect yourself you need a RESPIRATOR type face mask so technically I suppose it’s not actually a face mask. These can sometimes be purchased from places such as: Toolstation, Screwfix, Machine Mart, or look online for “FFP3 Respirator”. The disposable FFP3 Respirator masks are easier to wear than the non disposable type. Also whatever you do decide please make sure to watch a YouTube video from a professional Organisation to learn how to fit it, use it, remove it and dispose/store it. 3M, Protech, etc. or a PPE expert.
    NOTE: I am not an expert in this field. All the above information should not be relied on and is just my own opinions. You should ALWAYS do your own research.
    SOURCE: I have a lung disease and have been on oxygen since 2013. It is highly likely caused by the Hepatitis C infection – I was infected in 1974 during a 6 unit blood transfusion. I therefore need to protect myself and all information is from my own personal research. Officials recommend you educate yourself from organisations such as: World Health Organisation, Centre for Disease Control, Health Protection England, Health Protection Scotland. I find the Wikipedia is usually an accurate unbiased source of information but remember ANYONE can add information to a WIKI page! I like to source my information from sites used by Medical Experts such as the British Medical Journal and Medscape.

    I hope this helps.
    Kind regards
    Giggling Star

  2. I am having a problem finding filters to put in my homemade face mask pocket. Have you any names of firms that supply safe filters?

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