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Last Updated : Feb 10, 2020 01:56 PM IST | Source:

Coronavirus outbreak: Should you wear face mask for safety?

If masks are used, best practices should be followed on how to wear, remove, and dispose of them and on hand hygiene action after removal.

The novel coronavirus has taken the death toll to more than 900 in China while increasing the number of confirmed cases over 40,000.

Besides China, there have been more than 350 infections reported in almost 30 places with two deaths, one in the Philippines and the other in Hong Kong.

With the spread of the deadly virus, the people have been seen wearing medical face masks in order to protect themselves from getting infected.


Medical masks are surgical or procedure masks that are flat or pleated (some are like cups); they are affixed to the head with straps.

But are they really necessary?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), wearing a medical mask is one of the prevention measures to limit spread of certain respiratory diseases, including 2019-nCoV, in affected areas. However, the use of a mask alone is insufficient to provide the adequate level of protection and other equally relevant measures should be adopted.

Wearing medical masks when not indicated may cause unnecessary cost, procurement burden and create a false sense of security that can lead to neglecting other essential measures such as hand hygiene practices. However, if someone is using a mask, one should combine other preventive measures including hand and respiratory hygiene and avoiding close contact – at least one metre (three feet) distance - between the person and other people.

Furthermore, using a mask incorrectly - such as when there are gaps on the side of the face or if worn by people with beards - will let the virus through and hamper its effectiveness to reduce the risk of transmission.

Therefore, if masks are used, best practices should be followed on how to wear, remove, and dispose of them and on hand hygiene action after removal.

WHO shares the following information on the correct use of medical masks derives from the practices in health-care settings:

> Place mask carefully to cover mouth and nose and tie securely to minimise any gaps between the face and the mask;
> While in use, avoid touching the mask;
> Remove the mask by using the appropriate technique (i.e. do not touch the front but remove the lace from behind);
> After removal or whenever you inadvertently touch a used mask, clean hands by using an alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water if visibly soiled;
> Replace masks with a new clean, dry mask as soon as they become damp/humid;
> Do not re-use single-use masks;
> Discard single-use masks after each use and dispose of them immediately upon removal; and

> Cloth (like cotton or gauze) masks are not recommended under any circumstance.

Who should wear the mask?

Individuals with suspected 2019-nCoV infection with mild respiratory symptoms should definitely wear a medical mask. Also, their relatives or caregivers should wear a mask when in the same room with the affected individual.

Download the WHO guidelines on the use of masks here.

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First Published on Feb 10, 2020 01:47 pm
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