Jul. 13, 2009

Face mask - myths about swine flu

As a condo broker I travel a lot through Toronto every day and sometimes I can see people wearing these face or surgeon masks. I have close contact with lot of clients every day, so exposion to swine flu is not so distant to me. But can these mask really help us?

Thankfully, the swine flu isn't spread that badly so far - at the moment there's 8,883 cases, of which 36 ended sadly. (Ontario - 3,464 cases, 12 deaths.) Don't you sometimes ask yourself, when comparing these statistics, why WHO cares so much about the swine flu, when so many people die every year because of the ordinary flu?

One of the reasons is that the ordinary flu is usually dangerous to only very small babies or old people or those with a compromised immune system. The problem with the swine flu is that it is especially dangerous for young and strong people as opposed to small babies, elderly or weak, and that's why WHO takes it so seriously. Also, the WHO is trying its best to anticipate the big pandemic of so called from 1918 to repeat. That's why the WHO has previously advised on using facemasks to reduce the spreading of the dangerous flu.

Before we go on more about the mask, yesterday you maybe heard of or read about some two farmers from the Saskatchewan province falling ill with a new kind of swine flu. The farmers only suffered from very light flu and the officials do not think this new flu will spread.

The mask: what is it for?

Influenza, or simply flu, is a respiratory illness. It is mostly spread by inhaling the virus from the mist created by coughing & sneezing of an ill person, or by touching your face (eyes, nose or mouth) after you touched a surface contaminated with the virus. But there's the rub: a sick person is contagious already 24 hours before any flu symptoms shop up, and up to 7 days after the first symptoms. So before you knew you were sick, you might have infected other people at home, work or school or wherever you were, since you didn't feel ill.

The whole idea about the facemask is to provide a barrier between you and the air around you. The basic facemask isn't too effective in filtering the air you breath in, so it's not so very efficient to prevent you from catching the virus. But the good news is that the mask is quite good when breathing out - it does help to block the virus effectively when a patient needs to sneeze or cough. Considering the fact that people might be spreading the dangerous virus while still feeling OK, it might be helpful to wear the mast even before one gets sick.

What mask should you choose?

There are so many kinds of surgeon masks and respirators that choosing one might be a bit of a problem. You won't make a mistake if you go for a N95 mask/respirator instead of a basic type. This kind of mask guarantees the minimum of 95% filtration of the particles that could possibly make you sick.

But relying totally on the protective equipment you chose is not enough without following some ground hygiene procedures. Not forgetting to often wash your hands using soap or alcohol sanitizer is essential. Always use a tissue when sneezing or coughing and discharge the tissue straight after use. Also don't go out if you feel sick and avoid crowded places if possible.

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