Masks May Protect the Wearer More than Originally Believed, Researchers Say

By Anna Breuer on 28 July 2020
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A flight attendant with face mask and eye shield

Wearing a mask amidst the coronavirus pandemic may not just be a selfless act to protect others, but appears to reduce the viral dose the wearer could receive, a new study claims.

Multiple doctors and researchers have suggested that, in addition to protecting others from a virus the wearer of the mask may have, masks protect the wearer as well.

A new paper published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine points to evidence that shows that wearing masks will result in milder and in some cases asymptomatic infection manifestations.

The Study, “Masks Do More than Protect Others during Covid-19: Reducing the Inoculum of SARS-CoV-2,” hypothesizesthat universal masking reduces the “inoculum,” or dose of the virus, for the wearer.

“Masks, depending on type, filter out the majority of viral particles, but not all,“ said Dr. Monica Gahndi, an infectious disease specialist at the University of California, San Francisco and one of the authors, in the paper.

The researchers cite examples of rising rates of asymptomatic infection when population-level masking is present in a closed setting, such as on a cruise ship with and without universal masking, and review experiments with animals that portend what the effect might be on humans.

That experiment, conducted by researchers in China, showed that hamsters in cages that were shielded by a surgical mask partition were less likely to contract a SARS-CoV-2 infection than those without, and that those who were shielded who did contract an infection had milder symptoms.

The data from cruise ships, where large numbers of people were crowded in tight quarters, showed that 80% of those infected with the coronavirus on the Japanese cruise ship Diamond Princess in February, when masking was not yet a common practice, had symptoms, in contrast to cruise ship passengers who consistently wore masks on a 21-day expedition of the Antarctic Peninsula before sailing to South Georgia Island, where the level of symptomatic cases was approximately 20%.

Anecdotal evidence from Asian countries, where the outbreak of the coronavirus resulted in universal mask wearing, indicates that this lowered the rate of infection and contained the number of hospitalizations and deaths per million members of the population, keeping those figures far lower than in places such as the United States, where people were slow to adopt masks, if at all.

Even there, however, as the percentage of the population wearing masks slowly crept upward, the number of hospitalizations and deaths were lower than during the initial surge.

While more study is required on the extent to which masks protect the wearer, the fact that wearing masks does no harm and that they have been shown to protect others should be reason enough for everyone to don one.

That sentiment was echoed by the head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Infection, who recently said that, if all Americans were to use masks right now, the rising number of Covid-19 cases could be controlled.

“I think if we can get everyone to wear masksright now, we can bring this under control within four, six, eightweeks,” said Dr. Robert Redfield, in an interview with the Journal of the American Medical Association, or JAMA.

(Photo: Accura Media Group)

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