a Mask Protect You From SARS?
severe acute respiratory syndrome, is a new disease on a planet
that surely didn't need one—and a threat to public health
worldwide, as well as the economy. At this moment China still
apparently faces the most serious danger. If you happen to be
in the face-mask business, however, SARS would be good for your
economy. In TV footage from Hong Kong, Beijing, and other cities
fighting outbreaks of SARS, everybody in camera range casual
pedestrians along with hospital workers—seems to be wearing
a face mask. Should you lay in a supply of masks, and if so,
which ones? Should you wear a mask on your next plane flight?
you don't need a supply of masks, and you almost certainly would
not benefit from wearing one on your next plane trip. The widely
available masks made of paper, gauze, and cotton are essentially
worthless as protection against disease. They can keep you from
inhaling large particles such as wood dust from carpentry, but
they won’t filter viruses or bacteria. A cotton mask will
give you about as much protection as holding a hanky over your
face. (In fact, holding a hanky, tissue, or hand over your face
and mouth when you sneeze may help protect others from catching
your cold.) Viruses and bacteria are tiny and can pass through
any ordinary weave.
type of mask, the N-95, is effective, since it was designed
for hospital wear when infection control is needed. Made of
synthetic fibers such as polyester and polypropylene, these
masks will filter out any particle measuring 0.3 microns or
larger 95% of the time (hence the name). To get some idea how
small a micron is, keep in mind that the average human hair
is about 100 microns in diameter. The virus that is thought
to cause SARS, a member of the coronavirus family, is smaller
than 0.3 microns, unfortunately. The rhinovirus (the leading
cause of the common cold) is even smaller. However, viruses
may travel in clumps or on larger particles, so the N-95 will
capture some if not all of them. Health authorities recommend
the N-95 (along with gowns, gloves, and facial shields) for
health-care workers. They aren't perfect, but they help. They
cost anywhere from $1 to $4 apiece retail and are disposable.
masks really make sense only in health-care settings, especially
when dealing with a respiratory ailment such as SARS. A proper
fit is essential—gaps around the edges would render the
N-95 ineffective. Health-care workers get fitted individually.
You could improve the fit by taping the mask to your face, but
masks of any kind are generally uncomfortable, and taping would
only make matters worse and possibly irritate your skin. Of
course, if you were caring for someone with SARS, you would
be advised to wear an N-95 mask when in the same room with the
patient, and the patient would undoubtedly have to wear a mask
to protect others, at least to some extent.
the masks you see pedestrians and airline passengers wearing
on TV and in photos are chiefly emblematic they make the wearer
feel safer, but they don’t really do much.
can you protect yourself against SARS?
one, as yet, has a definitive answer. Here are some things to
keep in mind:
Don't stock up on masks or wear one until or unless there
is a SARS epidemic in your area and health authorities instruct
you to do so.
Though it's not completely clear how the SARS virus travels,
your best defense against catching SARS, the flu, or a cold
is not a mask, but frequent hand washing with soap and water.
It is likely that the virus, like cold viruses, can also be
picked up on the hands and thus be spread from one object
to another. But you don't need an antibacterial soap, plain
soap is fine. Antibacterial agents don't work against viruses
anyway. If you're in a car or anywhere a sink is not readily
available, you might carry alcohol gel or wipes.
Finally, do heed the warnings of the CDC and World Health
Organization. Don't travel to quarantined areas in infected
cities unless you have a very compelling reason for doing
so. For further information see the website.
Reference Source 98