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COVID-19 pandemic could be stopped if at least 70% public wore face masks consistently: Study

The research, published in the journal Physics of Fluids, assessed studies on face masks and reviewed epidemiological reports on whether they reduce the number of people an infected person spreads the pathogen to -- the reproduction number of the virus.

November 25, 2020 / 12:27 PM IST

The COVID-19 pandemic could be stopped if at least 70 per cent of the public wore face masks consistently, according to a review of studies which suggests that the type of material used and the duration of mask use play key roles in their effectiveness.

The research, published in the journal Physics of Fluids, assessed studies on face masks and reviewed epidemiological reports on whether they reduce the number of people an infected person spreads the pathogen to -- the reproduction number of the virus.

"The highly efficacious facemask, such as surgical masks with an estimated efficacy of around 70 per cent, could lead to the eradication of the pandemic if at least 70 per cent of the residents use such masks in public consistently," the scientists, including Sanjay Kumar from the National University of Singapore, wrote in the study.

"Even less efficient cloth masks could also slow the spread if worn consistently," Kumar added.

According to the scientists, one key aspect of face mask function involves the size of fluid droplets expelled from the nose and mouth when a person talks, sings, sneezes, coughs, or even simply breathes.

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COVID-19 Vaccine

Frequently Asked Questions

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How does a vaccine work?

A vaccine works by mimicking a natural infection. A vaccine not only induces immune response to protect people from any future COVID-19 infection, but also helps quickly build herd immunity to put an end to the pandemic. Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. The good news is that SARS-CoV-2 virus has been fairly stable, which increases the viability of a vaccine.

How many types of vaccines are there?

There are broadly four types of vaccine — one, a vaccine based on the whole virus (this could be either inactivated, or an attenuated [weakened] virus vaccine); two, a non-replicating viral vector vaccine that uses a benign virus as vector that carries the antigen of SARS-CoV; three, nucleic-acid vaccines that have genetic material like DNA and RNA of antigens like spike protein given to a person, helping human cells decode genetic material and produce the vaccine; and four, protein subunit vaccine wherein the recombinant proteins of SARS-COV-2 along with an adjuvant (booster) is given as a vaccine.

What does it take to develop a vaccine of this kind?

Vaccine development is a long, complex process. Unlike drugs that are given to people with a diseased, vaccines are given to healthy people and also vulnerable sections such as children, pregnant women and the elderly. So rigorous tests are compulsory. History says that the fastest time it took to develop a vaccine is five years, but it usually takes double or sometimes triple that time.

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They said larger droplets, with sizes around 5-10 microns, are the most common, adding that smaller droplets below 5 microns are possibly more dangerous.

In comparison, the scientists said the human hair is about 70 microns in diameter.

Among the many types of facemasks in use, such as cloth masks, surgical masks, and N95 masks, they said only the latter can filter out aerosol-sized droplets.

The performance of face masks worn for many hours, such as by health care or other essential workers, impact how effective overall mask wearing can be, the researchers added.

They found that face masks made of hybrid polymer materials could filter particles at high efficiency while simultaneously cooling the face since the fibres used in these allow heat to escape from beneath the mask.

"There could be some relation between breathing resistance and the flow resistance of the face mask which will need to be studied for a face mask-wearing interval," said Heow Pueh Lee, another co-author of the study.

"Also, the environmental condition in the compartmental space within the face mask will need to be more accurately quantified using miniaturised sensors and the development of human replicas for such studies," Lee said.

Based on the analysis, the researchers underscored the importance of consistent use of efficient facemasks, such as surgical masks.
PTI
first published: Nov 25, 2020 12:24 pm

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