Surgical Masks to Prevent Spread of H1N1 aka Swine Flu: Is this really necessary?

Articles
May 04, 2009

Surgical Masks to Prevent Spread of H1N1 aka Swine Flu: Is this really necessary?

Should surgical masks become part of our daily dressing routine? Certainly a valid question, as swine flu news coverage from around the world is capturing images of both people wearing surgical type masks to prevent infection and spread of the H1N1 virus, as well as images of health professionals passing out masks to residents of cities and towns in order to assume the highest level of precaution. To set the record straight, the World Health Organization (WHO) does not recommend the use of face masks to prevent the H1N1 strain of the flu virus. This of course may not hold true if you are caring for someone who has been diagnosed or is suspected of having the flu virus. In any highly infectious viral situation, the most important measures of prevention are thorough and frequent hand washing, as well as maintaining good health through adequate sleep, nutrition and physical activity; but most importantly… REMAIN CALM!! If you are indeed suffering from the flu virus you may choose to wear a face mask to prevent spreading H1N1 to those around you. If you choose to do so, you need to be aware of the fact that once the mask becomes wet through coughing, sneezing and even normal breathing, the mask itself becomes contaminated, thus creating another vector for the virus. Further precaution must be carried out in the disposal of the mask and of course disinfecting surfaces the mask and/or your hands may have come in contact with. Using disposable tissues to cover your nose and mouth while sneezing or coughing and proper disposal seems equally effective and possibly more logical. If you are without tissues, covering your mouth and nose with your elbow while coughing or sneezing, instead of into your hands has also been advised to lessen the spread of the germs. It is also recommended that if you are suffering from the flu or suspect that you may have the virus, to stay home from school or work and follow your local public health recommendations. In theory the face mask may make sense, but in reality (and of course according to the worlds leading health authority, WHO) it is not a necessary means of preventing the swine flu. To keep updated on preventative flu measures you can visit the WHO’s webpage at as well as the CDC’s webpage. Now go wash your hands! Make sure to use warm water, soap and rub vigorously for 20 seconds!

Should surgical masks become part of our daily dressing routine? Certainly a valid question, as swine flu news coverage from around the world is capturing images of both people wearing surgical type masks to prevent infection and spread of the H1N1 virus, as well as images of health professionals passing out masks to residents of cities and towns in order to assume the highest level of precaution.

To set the record straight, the World Health Organization (WHO) does not recommend the use of face masks to prevent the H1N1 strain of the flu virus. This of course may not hold true if you are caring for someone who has been diagnosed or is suspected to have the flu virus. In any highly infectious viral situation, the most important measures of prevention are thorough and frequent hand washing, as well as maintaining good health through adequate sleep, nutrition and physical activity; but most importantly… REMAIN CALM!!

If you are indeed suffering from the flu virus you may choose to wear a face mask to prevent spreading H1N1 to those around you. If you choose to do so, you need to be aware of the fact that once the mask becomes wet through coughing, sneezing and even normal breathing, the mask itself becomes contaminated, thus creating another vector for the virus. Further precaution must be carried out in the disposal of the mask and of course disinfecting surfaces the mask and/or your hands may have come in contact with. Using disposable tissues to cover your nose and mouth while sneezing or coughing and proper disposal seems equally effective and possibly more logical. If you are without tissues, covering your mouth and nose with your elbow while coughing or sneezing, instead of into your hands has also been advised to lessen the spread of the germs. It is also recommended that if you are suffering from the flu or suspect that you may have the virus, to stay home from school or work and follow your local public health recommendations.

In theory the face mask may make sense, but in reality (and of course according to the worlds leading health authority, WHO) it is not a necessary means of preventing the swine flu.

To keep updated on preventative flu measures you can visit the WHO’s webpage at as well as the CDC’s webpage.

Now go wash your hands! Make sure to use warm water, soap and rub vigorously for 20 seconds!