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Last Updated : May 20, 2020 10:14 AM IST | Source: Moneycontrol.com

Wearing surgical masks significantly reduces COVID-19 spread, hamster tests show

With the study result, Professor Yuen urged the public to keep wearing masks to save themselves from COVID-19.

Representative image
Representative image

Wearing a surgical mask may be able to significantly reduce the non-contact transmission of the novel coronavirus, according to a new study conducted by the University of Hong Kong.

Led by Professor Yuen Kwok-yung, one of the world's top coronavirus experts, the study was conducted to shed light on an ongoing debate on whether wearing masks would help prevent the transmission of the deadly coronavirus.

The study, which revealed the results of the three tests conducted on hamsters, showed wearing surgical masks can significantly reduce the non-contact transmission of the deadly COVID-19 virus, especially when masks were worn by infected individuals.


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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.

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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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In each set of the experiment, hamsters were separated into two groups and placed in two different cages, with one of the groups infected with the novel coronavirus.

In the first experiment, no surgical masks were placed between the two cages. In the second one, a surgical mask was placed closer to the healthy hamsters. In the third experiment, the mask was placed closer to the infected, as if the healthy ones or the infected were wearing masks.

With no mask barriers at all, two-thirds of the healthy hamsters – 66.7 percent -- were infected with the novel coronavirus in a week, the researchers found.

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The infection rate went up to one-third or 33 percent when the mask barrier was placed closer to the healthy hamsters.

When the mask was placed closer to the infected cage, the infection rate dropped to one-sixth or 16.7 percent, the study said.

With the study result, Professor Yuen urged the public to keep wearing masks to save themselves from COVID-19.

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First Published on May 20, 2020 10:14 am