The World Health Organisation advises to only wear a mask if you are ill with COVID-19 symptoms (especially coughing) or looking after someone who may have COVID-19. Picture: Mark Stewart
The World Health Organisation advises to only wear a mask if you are ill with COVID-19 symptoms (especially coughing) or looking after someone who may have COVID-19. Picture: Mark Stewart

Should you be wearing a face mask?

More and more Australians are wearing protective face masks or trying to get their hands on them. But if you are a healthy individual, there is no need for you to wear a face mask.

The World Health Organisation advises to only wear a mask if you are ill with COVID-19 symptoms (especially coughing) or looking after someone who may have COVID-19.

On its website, WHO stated that wearing multiple face masks is "not effective" against the novel coronavirus and can actually be harmful.

How?

If you wear a mask incorrectly it can actually "increase" your chances of getting the virus, according to infection prevention specialist Eli Perencevich, MD, a professor of medicine and epidemiology at the University of Iowa's College of Medicine.

"Masks won't protect the average person. Because they will wear them incorrectly and autocontaminate themselves. I've never seen a person practice hand hygiene before removing a mask in public and then after removing the mask," Prof Perencevich said in a recent Twitter post.

He told Forbes that the average healthy person does not need to have a mask, and they shouldn't be wearing masks.

Prof Perencevich said if people don't wash their hands before taking off a mask, "you could increase your risk".

The World Health Organisation advises to only wear a mask if you are ill with COVID-19 symptoms (especially coughing) or looking after someone who may have COVID-19. Picture: Mark Stewart
The World Health Organisation advises to only wear a mask if you are ill with COVID-19 symptoms (especially coughing) or looking after someone who may have COVID-19. Picture: Mark Stewart


"There's no evidence that wearing masks on healthy people will protect them," he said. "They wear them incorrectly, and they can increase the risk of infection because they're touching their face more often."

He explained the one time you would want to wear a mask is if you're sick and you have to leave the house.

"If you have the flu or think you have COVID, that's when you'd put on a mask to protect others. In your house, if you feel like you're sick, you should wear a mask to protect your family members."

According to WHO, if you wear a mask, then you must know how to use it and dispose of it properly, adding those who are sick can wear a mask if they are coughing and sneezing.

But they are "effective only when used in combination with frequent hand-cleaning with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water".

 

HOW TO PROPERLY WEAR A MASK

The WHO also said that before putting on a mask strict hygiene rules should be followed including cleaning hands with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water.

"Cover mouth and nose with (the) mask and make sure there are no gaps between your face and the mask," it said.

"Avoid touching the mask while using it; if you do, clean your hands with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water."

Critically, the mask needs to be changed as soon as it is damp and cannot be used again.

"To remove the mask: remove it from behind (do not touch the front of mask); discard immediately in a closed bin; clean hands with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water."

The agency has published mythbusters on the disease and is battling an "infodemic" of false information about how coronavirus spreads.

If you wear a mask incorrectly it can actually ‘increase’ your chances of getting the virus, according to an infection prevention specialist. Picture: Dan Peled/AAP
If you wear a mask incorrectly it can actually ‘increase’ your chances of getting the virus, according to an infection prevention specialist. Picture: Dan Peled/AAP

 

LITTLE EVIDENCE WEARING A MASKS PREVENTS CORONAVIRUS

Public Health England's head of emerging infections Dr Jake Dunning said there is "very little evidence of a widespread benefit" in members of the public wearing masks.

"Face masks must be worn correctly, changed frequently, removed properly, disposed of safely and used in combination with good universal hygiene behaviour in order for them to be effective," he told the Independent.

Doctors, professors and experts from around the world have continued to say that the best way to protect yourself is by taking preventive actions staying at home if you're sick, being diligent with hygiene (washing your hands with soap and water for a minimum of 20 seconds) and practising social distancing.

In Australia, promising new figures show social distancing measures may be starting to have an impact on coronavirus infections in NSW and Victoria.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian today confirmed there had been 186 new cases of COVID-19 in the state, which continues the slight reduction in new cases since it reached a high of 211 on Wednesday, before it dropped to 190 new cases on Thursday.

Victorian numbers were also looking more promising, with cases there declining from a high of 80 new cases on Sunday, to 51 cases on Monday and 48 cases on Tuesday. There was an increase to 65 cases on Wednesday but this dropped to 46 cases on Thursday.

THE TYPES OF MASKS

There is medical grade respirators (3M) that health care professionals wear when treating someone with a serious contagious disease.

The type of face covering that reduces exposure to airborne particles - including protecting the wearer from viruses and bacteria - is called a respirator. The type of personal protection equipment (PPE) that healthcare workers wear when treating someone with a serious contagious disease is a medical respirator, Forbes reports.

They must have an efficiency rating of "N95," "FFP2," or a similar rating that refers to how many particles - and of what size - can't get through.

It protects the wearer from getting sick and protects the patient from the wearer's germs.

According to Forbes, those people who use medical respirators have received training in how to wear them to protect themselves, such as ensuring the mask forms an airtight seal with their face.

Masks are essential for people who are suspected or confirmed of having COVID-19, or looking after someone who is unwell, experts say. Picture: Joel Carrett/AAP
Masks are essential for people who are suspected or confirmed of having COVID-19, or looking after someone who is unwell, experts say. Picture: Joel Carrett/AAP

 

GLOBAL SHORTAGE OF MASKS

Another reason why experts have advised against wearing masks unless you're sick is because there is a global shortage and medical professionals are in need of it the most.

US surgeon general Jerome Adams, MD, pleaded on Twitter for people to refrain from purchasing masks.

"Seriously people-STOP BUYING MASKS!" he demanded. "They are NOT effective in preventing general public from catching #Coronavirus, but if healthcare providers can't get them to care for sick patients, it puts them and our communities at risk!"

Since he shared the post on February 29, it has been retweeted more than 42,000 times with over 67,000 likes.

He added that the best way to protect yourself and your community is with "everyday preventive actions".

"Like staying home when you are sick and washing hands with soap and water, to help slow the spread of respiratory illness."

 

AUSSIE HEALTHCARE WORKERS IN NEED OF MASKS

Masks are essential for people who are suspected or confirmed of having COVID-19, or looking after someone who is unwell.

That includes frontline health workers who are facing major shortages of masks and some hospitals were reportedly days away from running out.

The Federal Government has promised an extra 30 million medical masks in Australia within two weeks, but the director of a company that supplies more than 500 Australian hospitals said "most hospitals" were only days away from running out, the ABC reported.

The owner of one Brisbane GP clinic that treats 150 patients a day said she had "100 surgical masks in the cupboard" and the situation had become "truly scary".

The Australian Medical Association in Queensland (AMAQ) said many hospital staff were worried supplies would "run out" and called on Queensland Health to address the "frustration and angst among doctors on the frontline of (the) COVID-19 crisis".

Researchers have found that those most at risk of dying are over the age of 70, or those who have pre-existing serious health conditions like heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure or cancer.

 

Originally published as Should you be wearing a face mask?


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