Can a face mask prevent flu?

The Pediatric Insider

© 2013 Roy Benaroch, MD

We’re still swamped with flu at the office—this year is bad, bad, bad. I’ve recently written about preventing and treating influenza, and another detailed piece about exactly how flu is transmitted and how to protect yourself.

What about face masks? You see them on TV this time of year, and maybe you’ve seen them at your doctor’s office. Should flu patients wear masks? Should all of us?

There’s some evidence supporting the use of masks to prevent transmission of flu to healthy people. Studies have looked at both household and dormitory transmission of flu, and healthy people who routinely wear masks are less likely to contract flu, even when people sharing living quarters have influenza. The effect is largest when mask-wearing is combined with hand washing, vaccinations, and other steps to limit contagion.

As far as putting a mask on people who themselves have the flu: I could find no studies showing that this actually works. It does make sense to keep flu victims out of the workplace and away from other people, and perhaps putting a mask on them will also help. But it’s not clear that this will really make a difference.

Why would wearing a mask help prevent a healthy person from catching flu? A cough from a flu patient within three feet of your nose or eyes can transmit flu, so perhaps a mask could block that (there is no evidence that this is actually true.) More importantly, wearing a mask will remind you NOT to touch your nose or mouth. So even if you do get contaminated, infectious mucus on your hands, it won’t get you sick.

I’ve covered the best ways to prevent flu before: avoid sick people, wash your hands, don’t touch your face, and get immunized. Perhaps wearing a face mask can also help (I don’t recall these guys getting the flu!) Hopefully, this year’s flu season will burn out soon, and most of us will make it through OK. Next year, be sure to get that vaccine, OK?

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3 Comments on “Can a face mask prevent flu?”

  1. Ana H. Patel Says:

    Last year, a CDC study found that wearing face masks and washing hands with alcohol-bases sanitizer cut down flu symptoms in a community by half.

    Like

  2. Tracey Says:

    Heehee! I commented on how to transmit the flu to your friends and enemies and the reason was I told a friend that when I go shopping this time of year I wear gloves and a face mask. Not only have I had people cough while I am grabbing the milk right next to them but having your hands and face covered reminds me to not touch my face, and that itch on my nose will go away eventually and does not need to be scratched. Yes I do get strange looks and I sometimes think about taking the mask off and then someone 2 feet away from me will give a gut wretching cough and I think again. I’m in Wal-Mart for crying out loud!

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  3. 50 Inch Vertical Says:

    You’re training yourself to jump at 12 inches over a long period of time. Half of the athletes wore their regular training shoes, while the other half tried the Strength Shoes. Hold your legs together and raise them until your heels are over your hips.

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