Unknown Facts About The Use Of Masks
A new everyday object accompanies mankind: The face mask, also known as mouth and nose protection. Are the tissue barriers effective pandemic brakes?
In parts of Asia, it has long been the norm: wearing “masks” in everyday life. The barrier on the face is designed to prevent infectious diseases from spreading, for example through coughing, sneezing or speaking. At least in theory.
Masked in the new everyday life
Due to the corona pandemic, mouth and nose protection (MNS) is now part of public life in Europe. It should cover the nose, mouth and chin.
Sometimes people wear their MNS voluntarily, sometimes because of legal regulations. This is the case, for example, in the supermarket, on public transport or in the doctor’s office. These regulations are country-specific.
The MNS made of fabric for washing and reuse is now widespread. Also part of the new everyday life: disposable masks that can be thrown away after one use. They are also called surgical masks or surgical masks.
WHO recommends masks
The World Health Organization (WHO) now advocates wearing the MNS in everyday life in public places with high transmission rates, where it is not possible to keep your distance. According to the WHO, mouth and nose protection can help reduce infections with Covid-19 and contain the pandemic.
However, there has been much debate about the effectiveness of the MNS. There is still disagreement in science, politics and the public about the MNS as a brake on pandemics.
How effective is the barrier on the face?
We looked at what evidence there is. What do we know about infection prevention when laypeople wear a simple MNS such as cloth masks in everyday situations? And what do we not know?
Studies mostly on SARS, not Covid-19
During our research, we came across four studies from Asia that investigated this question.
All four papers indicate certain effectiveness of the MNS. Accordingly, wearing simple MNS can possibly prevent some new diseases.
However, we have to make this assessment with some caution and therefore cannot say exactly how comprehensive the possible protective effect is. On the one hand, the studies cannot rule out that factors other than the masks were actually responsible for the reduced risk of infection.
In addition, three of the four studies were carried out on the closely related SARS virus (SARS-CoV) and not the coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2), which is currently so interesting. Therefore, only provisional and indirect conclusions are possible from these study results.
Only one study examined infections with the current coronavirus. Their results point in the same direction: According to the study team, wearing the MNS could protect family members from Covid-19. Nevertheless, there are also some uncertainty factors in this work. Overall, however, the study results show that a certain protective effect through the MNS is entirely plausible.
Many studies are of little relevance
During our research, we came across numerous other studies on masks and respiratory diseases. But they do not fit our question, so we did not take them into account: In many, the diseases were not triggered by a virus that is related to the current coronavirus. Therefore, they cannot provide any information about infections with Sars-Cov-2.
In addition, we were only interested in those studies that examined the everyday life of the general population. For example, we find studies with health workers who were in constant contact with infected people inconclusive. This also applies to work in which the participants wore professional high-security masks instead of the usual mouth and nose protection.
All of these studies also showed a certain protective effect.
Collective data: Clues, not evidence
There are also observations from individual regions and countries that point in a similar direction. Accordingly, the pandemic seems to have developed more favourably where the population wore masks. In this regional or national collective data, it looks as if the masks had a positive influence on the contagion.
However, there are many possible sources of bias in these observational studies, so we are quite cautious here. It is quite possible that in Mit-Mask countries other unknown or neglected factors led to the “nicer” statistics. Nonetheless, such studies can be very well suited to form hypotheses and provide important initial clues.
Make decisions when data is missing
Our conclusion: wearing MNS may be suitable to avoid the transmission of the coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2).
We assume that the current uncertainty in our assessment will further decrease. With the help of future studies, it will hopefully be easier to classify how large and how safe the possible protective effect actually is.
It is quite possible that the evidence in this direction will rather condense. It would be good news if a relatively simple, inexpensive, and for many people acceptable measure could prevent disease and ultimately death.
And what to do until there is more knowledge? There are experts who consider it justified to wear the masks in the meantime – in line with the precautionary principle. Other experts criticize the fact that such a far-reaching measure cannot (yet) be justified for large parts of the population as long as there is no solid evidence of its effectiveness.
The signal on the face
According to the current state of knowledge, mouth and nose protection or mouth and nose covering is viewed as a possible component for containing the corona pandemic. It is plausible that the mask does more than just act as a barrier. It could also have a signalling and reminder function for the wearer or their social environment (“keep your distance!”, “Don’t touch your face!”)
Negative side effects?
According to the WHO, it should be borne in mind that an MNS is not equally available for all people: The new everyday objects are expensive to purchase and have to be washed after being worn once. They are not always comfortable for those who wear them, can cause skin irritation and make communication and breathing difficult.
In addition, the MNS may create a false sense of security, which could lead to the neglect of other important preventive measures. These include hand washing, keeping your distance, hygienic coughing and sneezing into the crook of your arm or a handkerchief, self-isolation in the event of symptoms of illness or contact with possibly infected people in the last few days.