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At the beginning of the pandemic in 2020, authorities were unsure of the extent to which people with COVID-19 could spread the virus before symptoms appeared, or if they were asymptomatic. Now both the World Health Organization (WHO) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend wearing face masks as a protective measure against COVID-19. Today we are going to discuss whether those face masks could protect us against influenza virus.

Here is a chart that shows the best and worst face masks for each situation:

 

Even though the chart shows us a great understanding of the masks’ efficacy it is not truly perfect. There is a difference between how the masks perform in real life and in vivo (in the laboratory). That is because it is still a gray area to which degree the particles are transmitted via aerosols and also each type of mask is researched for a type of virus particle every time, for example for influenza or novel coronavirus. 

It is for sure that the more effective the better when it comes to our choice of masks, prejudging every mask is available at the same level, when it is a fact that the level of their availability and accessibility is not the same.

It has been proven that under natural conditions wearing face masks could reduce transmission even though there is fewer data to support the use of masks to prevent from becoming infected.

During the pandemic influenza A (H1N1) measures at the population level included border controls to delay cross-border transmission, social distancing measures and at the individual level they included improved hygiene and the use of face masks, respirators (N95 falls under this class), and other physical barriers.

Social distancing measures include the temporary closure of schools, workplaces and such.

Small droplet (aerosol) transmission, large droplet and contact transmission are all researched as well as the transmission of the influenza virus long and short distance. If airborne transmission would be proven to be more important than the surgical masks would be less likely to lead reductions in infectiousness or protect against infectiousness. The primary argument against airborne transmission is said to be one of absence of evidence rather than evidence of absence. 

Some researches’ results suggest that surgical masks may be able to reduce infectiousness. Even though a substantial gap in the scientific literature still remains on the effectiveness of face masks to reduce transmission of influenza virus infection, it is still a recommended measure during a influenza pandemic such as the one (H1N1) in early 2009. For seasonal influenza infections you can have personalized assistance by FluAI, especially in the fall you should check it out.

References:

Cowling, Zhou, D., Ip, Leung,  & Aiello (2020). Face masks to prevent transmission of influenza virus: a systematic review. Cambridge.org. Retrieved 1 November 2020, from https://www.cambridge.org/core/services/aop-cambridge-core/content/view/64D368496EBDE0AFCC6639CCC9D8BC05/S0950268809991658a.pdf/face_masks_to_prevent_transmission_of_influenza_virus_a_systematic_review.pdf

Can face masks protect against the coronavirus?. Mayo Clinic. (2020). Retrieved 1 November 2020, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/coronavirus/in-depth/coronavirus-mask/art-20485449

Aria Bendix, B. (2020). One Chart Shows The Best And Worst Face Mask Types, Based on The Latest Research. ScienceAlert. Retrieved 2 November 2020, from https://www.sciencealert.com/this-chart-shows-the-best-and-worst-face-masks-for-each-situation

Image Links:

https://www.sciencealert.com/this-chart-shows-the-best-and-worst-face-masks-for-each-situation

Author

Elif Başak Alço

PM & clınıcal team

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