When you see people walking around with face masks on during cold and flu season, you usually think they are trying to protect themselves from getting sick. If they cover the nose and mouth, a face mask can indeed help prevent you from breathing in infectious germs or viruses that will make you sick. Even if you are taking immune boosting supplements during flu season, you don’t want to expose yourself to germs and viruses. Hence, when there is an airborne disease pandemic, face masks are often the thing to wear if you have to be in close quarters with a lager group of people, or tiny group of people who are sick.
But here’s the flip side of the coin. If you already have a cold or flu, you should definitely be the one wearing a face mask so that you don’t infect others. I remember an instance where one of my friends who was sick kept following me around trying to talk to me, all the time breathing out a stream of wet germs that everyone could feel. I told here she was still in the highly infectious stage breathing out germs, but she had no consideration for others and got all of us sick.
In another instance, a professor who was sick with the flu insisted on sitting next to one of my teachers to ask him some questions. Rather than sit a distance away from him, and turn his face away at an angle to reduce the chance of spreading germs, due to this lack of consideration he gave him the flu he had. “Close contact” is defined as within three feet, so if you are sick you should remain at least three feet away from others and cover your face with a mask to help prevent the passing of your illness. Why aren’t people thinking of others? You wear face masks to protect yourself, and to prevent giving the cold or flu to others.
What face masks do I recommend? There are the NanoMasks sold by Emergency Filtration Products, which have been tested for blocking contaminants down to 27 nanometers, which is good enough to stop H5N1, SARS, and other viruses. I don’t think run of the mill ordinary people are going to spend that much money on them, however, unless there is a killer epidemic going around. Then this is the premium solution.
Most people are going to go for the more inexpensive N95 masks, which have been shown to offer significant protection against flu infection. Disposable surgical masks, also known as surgical masks or surgical face masks, have been shown not to protect health care workers from infection with the flu or other viral infections. They don’t protect you from the flu at all.
As to the N95 face masks, they can only filter out material greater than 300 nanometers in size and they can indeed reduce the risk of getting influenza, according to information released from the CDC. In fact, there was a study done in China proving their effectiveness that involved 1,936 health care workers at 24 hospitals in Beijing. The participants wore surgical masks, fit-tested N95 masks, or N95 masks that were not fit-tested, and they wore these masks for every shift during the four weeks of cold and flu season. The results? The study found that surgical masks were not effective against illness or infection. On the other hand, N95 masks were found to be 56% effective against lab-confirmed respiratory viral infections and 75% protective against confirmed influenza. The fitted N95 masks didn’t appear to provide more protection than unfitted N95 masks.
There is no single action that will provide complete protection against catching a cold or flu, especially during cold or flu season. It simply isn’t practical to be wearing a mask all the time either, and they are not 100% foolproof. But all things considered, if you want a mask or need a mask, you should get the N95 face masks. If there’s an epidemic like the plague or Black Death that is killing millions, in that case I’d go for the expensive nanoMask because they can filter out even smaller particles.
Here’s the other thing that I’ve found useful. Don’t buy a box with just two masks, even though it’s cheaper. When it’s cold and flu season, you’ll need a lot of masks, and don’t forget you might need one for plane travel, too. Buy a box of twenty or more because (1) you’ll use them and (2) when you need them they’ll usually be out of stock because everyone is buying them as well. My advice is the 3M N95 brand.