A collaboration of researchers, headed by the University of New South Wales, has shown that wearing face masks, much like the ones we laugh at when the Japanese wear them, are quite effective against the spread of flu. The researchers say that sticking with the regiment of constantly wearing the masks makes all the difference.
From Imperial College London, one of the collaborating teams in the study:
The University of New South Wales team, led by Professor Raina MacIntyre, recruited more than 280 adults in 143 families in Sydney during the winter seasons of 2006 and 2007. The adults were randomly allocated masks when exposed to a sick child in the household.
Less than half of those asked to wear masks reported having done so consistently. However, adherence to preventative measures is known to vary depending on perception of risk and could be expected to increase during a respiratory disease pandemic.
The trial results are published this week in Emerging Infectious Diseases, the journal of the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. The researchers say the findings have global implications and are particularly relevant to efforts to combat the spread of flu pandemics and other emerging respiratory diseases such as SARS.
But while some governments are already stockpiling masks for use in a pandemic, Professor Ferguson said the evidence to support their use in the community has been limited up until now.
“This study starts to close that evidence gap. Our work indicates masks may provide substantial protection so long as they are worn consistently and properly.”
He went on to emphasise that uncertainties remain: “This study represents a first step. More work is needed to look at the effectiveness of masks to prevent flu infections specifically, to evaluate their effectiveness in other community and healthcare settings, and to investigate the factors limiting compliance with mask use. We estimate that the reduction in risk of catching a respiratory infection for an adult caring for a sick child, when they adhere to mask use, is between sixty and eighty per cent. Whether the risk would be reduced by the same margin in another setting or where there was more than one source of potential infection requires further investigation.”