4 possible consequences of wearing face masks

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If healthcare workers wear surgical masks, there is good evidence that it limits the spread of viral respiratory infections in hospitals. But there is no clear evidence that surgical masks protect members of the public from contracting or transmitting these types of infections, likely due to misuse. For cloth masks worn by the public, the image is even darker.

Surgical masks are made of several layers of nonwoven plastic and can effectively filter out very small particles, such as drops of SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19). Masks typically contain an external waterproof layer and an internal absorbent layer.

Although masks made from scarves, T-shirts, or other fabrics may not provide the same level of protection and durability as surgical masks, they can block some of the large droplets exhaled by the wearer, thus protecting others from viral exposure. But its ability to filter drops depends on its construction. Multilayer cloth masks are better for filtering but harder to breathe. And they get wetter faster than single-layer masks.

The question we must ask ourselves is not so much whether cloth masks offer as good a protection as surgical masks (we know they don’t, and maybe that’s fine), but whether there are unintended serious consequences of recommending their widespread use by part of the members. from the public

When deciding whether a safety measure is worth introducing at scale, it is important to balance the benefits with the potential harm. Here are four possible consequences that, unless mitigated, could make matters worse. Warning is worth two.

The big four

First, what is known as the Peltzman effect suggests that the introduction of a safety measure, such as car seat belts, can lead to other compensatory risk behaviors, such as speeding. (If you find that your car is safer than normal, you can compensate for this by driving faster.) In the context of COVID-19, it has been argued that wearing a mask can make people feel more secure, and therefore minimize other protective behaviors that we know to be effective, such as social distancing and regular laundering. of hands.

Although we have no clear evidence that this is happening during the pandemic, some studies conducted before the outbreak found that people had poorer hand hygiene when wearing a mask.

Second, to offer any type of protection, masks must be used correctly and consistently when in contact with other people. Most of the studies conducted so far, none of which were conducted during the current pandemic, did not explicitly analyze the level of adherence to mask use. Those who did report variable adherence, ranging from “good” to “poor”.

However, it is important to note that the more serious a disease is and the more susceptible people feel, the more likely they are to protect themselves during a pandemic. Given the high number of infections and deaths worldwide, people may show higher than typical levels of adherence to mask use during the pandemic.

Third, the masks can act as an additional transmission route or cause other behavior that the virus transmits, such as touching your face regularly. To prevent masks from becoming alternate transmission routes, they must be safely put on and taken off.

People touch their faces 15 to 23 times per hour on average; An itchy or poorly fitting mask can mean that people touch their eyes, nose, and mouth even more regularly. After touching your mask, there is a risk that your hands will become contaminated, with the risk that you will later spread the virus to other surfaces, such as door handles, railings, or tables.

Fourth, UK researchers have calculated that if the entire UK population were to start using disposable masks on a daily basis, it would create a significant environmental risk, i.e. 42,000 tonnes of potentially contaminated and non-recyclable plastic waste per year.

Additionally, most people will have noticed the increase in garbage in the masks in community spaces, which can act as environmental and infection risks. Therefore, reusable masks are preferable to disposable ones.

National and international public health agencies now recommend that members of the public wear masks in places where it is difficult to maintain social distance, such as on public transportation. We strongly recommend readers to continue good hand hygiene and social distancing, without touching your face and using reusable (rather than disposable) face covers, and disposing of them safely at the end of their useful life.

The conversation
The conversation

Olga Perski, Research Associate, Behavioral Sciences and Health, UCL

David Simons, PhD Candidate, Zoonotic Infections, Royal Veterinary College

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Image: Reuters

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