Masks reduce spread of flu and certain coronaviruses, study finds

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LONDON – Face masks could help limit the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to researchers who have studied the effect of surgical masks on the transmission of other corona and flu viruses.

In the study, the use of surgical masks by sufferers significantly reduced the number of influenza viruses detectable in the droplets released by breathing and coughing.

It has also reduced the number of seasonal coronaviruses – among the causes of common colds – detectable in the air in the form of suspended microdroplets or aerosols. The study did not examine the new coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2.

“More research is needed to determine whether the masks can specifically prevent the transmission of SARS-CoV-2,” said the scientists.

The research, published in the journal Nature Medicine, coincides with the COVID-19 respiratory disease pandemic, which has infected more than one million people worldwide and killed more than 53,000 people.

Benjamin Cowling, the professor who led the study at the World Health Organization (WHO) Collaborating Center for the Epidemiology of Infectious Diseases in Hong Kong, said his results could be extrapolated to more cotton masks simple.

“My expert opinion is that masks made of fabric or cotton would have an effect, but perhaps a little less than a properly worn surgical mask,” he said in a telephone interview. “And in terms of COVID-19, we’re looking at all the possible measures that could help. “

So far, there is little solid scientific evidence on the effectiveness of face masks in slowing the transmission of respiratory diseases.

WHO says masks should be worn by anyone with symptoms such as cough or fever, or anyone dealing with a confirmed or suspected COVID-19 case, but does not advise people in good health health to wear them in everyday situations.

However, there is evidence to suggest that the rapid spread of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus is at least partly due to the fact that it can be transmitted by people with no symptoms.

Rupert Beale, a specialist in infection biology at the Francis Crick Institute in London, who was not directly involved in Cowling’s work, said the study offered “solid and convincing evidence” of wearing a mask as a way to reduce some viruses, but they weren’t a magic bullet.

“Wearing a mask does not completely prevent transmission and cannot be invoked as a single measure,” he said, “but, combined with other measures of social distancing, should be part of the” strategy. lock output. “(Reporting by Kate Kelland; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

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