Do face masks really work and which one should you buy?
As the coronavirus spreads fear amongst the UK public, sales of face masks have skyrocketed and soared by 800%, leading many of you to question whether or not you should own one.
Just like hand sanitisers and hygiene products, there is now a shortage of face masks. Due to the cases of the virus increasing rapidly, consumers have cleared stock both online and in the shops. This has led to many stores having to limit their sales and put restrictions on their stock.
Whereas independent sellers have now ramped up the price, selling face masks up to £150 for a pack of five, which had risen from £30 a few days prior. A pack like this will see you getting five uses out of the face mask, which you need to not reuse or allow to come into contact with your hands.
But are face masks essential during the outbreak? Health experts, scientists and medical professionals are all torn on whether they offer the vital protection the public needs.
The truth: do face masks protect you against the pandemic?
Recent tests with other flu-like viruses have shown that the common surgical mask does not make significant reductions to the likelihood of catching or transmitting infections.
Other health experts, like Public Health England have commented further warning that there is not enough evidence to suggest that face masks are effective outside a hospital environment or clinical setting.
Brendan Wren, professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, states that these face masks are not the ultimate protection to stop people from being infected, in fact it may even worsen the chances of the disease spreading.
'I don't think they do any good. They are smaller than air particles for pollution that we worry about. It will simply be breathed in.'
One of the encouraging uses of a face mask is that it stops the wearer from touching their face or putting hands in their mouth.
But it’s important to also be aware that touching the face mask with your hands without carrying out the proper use of hand hygiene still increases the chance of infection.
It is therefore, more important and critical to perform diligent hand hygiene through the use of soap and hand sanitisers than it is to solely rely on face masks.
Which face mask should you buy to protect yourself?
Even in the light of the evidence, more experts have further conducted lab tests on face masks used by medics in the NHS. The staff have been wearing these masks in fear that the illness is spread through the air just like flu, SARs and ebola.
The Health and Safety Executive began a study that used a special machine that sprayed droplets at an individual wearing the mask in order to replicate a sneeze or cough.
Different types of masks were used, which were sprayed multiple times from a metre away whilst breathing in. The results showed:
- Masks respirator with filters was the best with the chances of catching the virus whilst wearing the mask becoming 100 times less likely.
- Mask respirator with no filter reducing the chances of catching the virus to 78 times less likely. These types of face masks are typically used to offer protection from hazardous materials and glasses. However, as they can get wet and allow the virus to linger the would need to be discarded after one use.
- Standard surgical masks: Six times less likely. Therefore they should not be used when coming into contact with coughs and sneezes as during testing traces of the infection was found inside.
- DIY masks: Two times less likely. Definitely not to be reused and considered not very safe and should only be considered as a last resort.
If you choose to wear a face mask then the WHO insists that you should know how to use it and how to dispose of it carefully and correctly.
Why do some countries wear face masks and others don’t?
Can face masks put wearers more at risk?
It’s important to know the risks also associated with wearing a face mask. The medical chief has warned that they can increase the spread if not used properly. This is because cheaper face masks can in fact trap the virus and cause the wearer to breathe it in.
“What tends to happen is people will have one mask. They won’t wear it all the time, they will take it off when they get home, they will put it down on a surface they haven’t cleaned.” Dr Harries, Chief Medical Examiner
It is because of this attitude that wearers can cause more of a risk than reduce one. However, those who have been instructed to wear one should follow healthcare guidance.
The argument is growing that any form of protection is better than none at all. The research suggests that it’s how you wear the mask that makes all the difference.
Academics have pointed out that if the mask is not tight to the nose or mouth then contamination can still penetrate, or even linger on the surface of the mask.
As mentioned above it all depends on the type of face mask you use as well. Other conditions like if the face mask becomes damp or wet can also heighten the risk of transmission and spread. Even coughing into the mask or sneezing can make matters much worse.
When should you wear a face mask?
It’s recommended that face masks should be mostly worn when:
- In contact with someone suspected to have COVID-19
- If you are in fact infected and in contact with others
Constant use of the same face mask can also reduce its effectiveness at prevention.
Online face masks sales scams: be aware
Police forces are dealing with a 400% increase in online scams as many people take advantage of the coronavirus spread.
The reports have shown that many consumers have reported that they ordered protective face masks and other hygiene products which never arrived.
It is advised to take precaution shopping online and to pay through PayPal where you can to avoid being victim of online scams. Buy from trusted sources only and be wary of independent buyers and resellers on sites like Amazon and eBay.