Unmasking the Truth Behind Masks

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3 mins read

Due to the current Covid-19 (coronavirus) outbreak, N95 and surgical masks are currently in high demand, driving up prices and spawning long queues at places with available stocks. But how effective exactly are masks in preventing the spread of germs? It depends.

“Germs don’t generally spread through the air one at a time”, said Dr. Mark Denison of Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville. Denison studies SARS and MERS, which are coronaviruses, the same family as Covid-19. Instead, viruses are largely transmitted from person to person via droplets from a sneeze or cough. Those droplets land on hands and other surfaces, where they are touched by others, who then touch their own eyes, noses or mouths. The Covid-19 is now known to be transmissible through faeces too, making it even more important to have good hand hygiene.

Surgical masks may be able to block the passage of (larger) droplets and smear infections. If the wearer of the mask coughs or sneezes, most of the droplets from the nose and mouth get caught in the mask. However, a mask of this type when worn repeatedly quickly loses its effectiveness as the dampness in the mask builds up. Surgical masks are prone to leakage around the edge of the mask when the user inhales.

N95 masks offer better respiratory protection than surgical masks. Designed as particulate respirators, N95s can protect wearers from small particles, filtering out up to 95% of airborne particles. However, N95 masks must be properly fitted for it to work optimally, and breathing through it for a protracted period of time is quite uncomfortable for the wearer.

Mask up correctly!
Even the best mask will not help if it is not worn properly. It is also important to change your masks regularly (soiled or damp masks reduce in effectiveness) and dispose of them hygienically and safely.

Image Credit: gov.sg/article/masking-up-how-and-when-you-should-do-it

The Ministry of Health in Singapore recommends masks to be worn by healthcare workers (due to higher rates of exposure) and people who are unwell and experiencing symptoms of respiratory illnesses.

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