Facemasks- Are they Effective?

Facemasks- Are they Effective?

When the U.S. experienced the famous swine flu outbreak in the year 2009, everyone was discussing how to stop its spread. As per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there was no vaccine availability because the virus could not be identified.

Health organizations kept reminding people of the significance of washing hands using water and soap. People who were victims of this disease were strongly advised not to leave home.

Then, another trend was seen. People started wearing masks to prevent the spread of this contagious infection. Can face masks actually prevent the spread of infection? Which masks are the best?

Keep reading to know more.

Masks can Help Stop the Spread of Flu

For many years, scientists were not able to answer the question if wearing masks can actually make a difference in preventing the spread of viruses. However, latest research has provided some positive answers.

A study published in 2008 in the International Journal of Infectious Diseases indicated that if masks are used correctly, they can reduce the spread of viral infections to a great extent.

This study included the family members of several children who had been suffering from flu-like symptoms. 80 percent of these people who used masks properly were less likely to suffer from similar diseases.

Surprisingly, there was no difference found in the efficacy of different types of masks that were used by these family members.

Another study was published in the Annals of Internal Medicine. This study included over 400 people who had been suffering from flu. The study analyzed the family members of these people in reference to the usage of masks and the spread of disease.

Facemasks- Are they Effective?

The study concluded that people who had been using masks in a proper manner were able to reduce the risk of flu by 70 percent. These people also observed proper hand washing in addition to the usage of masks

Other studies have also provided similar results that have been extremely promising. For example, one study was conducted with the help of researchers belonging to the University of Michigan.

The study comprised of more than a thousand students who had been living in the residence halls. The students were divided into two groups. The first group comprised of the students that wore masks and observed good hygiene whereas the other group did not observe any of these practices.

The results were compiled and it was shown that the students that wore masks and washed their hands more often were less likely to suffer from flu-like symptoms up to a factor of 75 percent.

There is another thing to be considered that was found in this study. The participants who used a mask but did not observe any hand washing were not able to avoid the infection altogether.

This suggests that the use of masks may not always be able to prevent the viral infections. This practice has to be coupled with proper hand washing in order to avoid the infections.

What are Different Types of Masks?

If you are thinking of wearing a mask to gain protection against the infections, it is important for you to know about different types of masks.

Yes, facemasks are not of a single type. There are different types of it. Let’s see how these types are different from each other.


Facemasks are a relatively common type that you may have come across frequently. They are of fairly loose fitting and are disposable. Such masks have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration of the U.S.

You may often spot doctors, nurses, and dentists wearing them while they are treating the patients. These masks are used because they prevent the droplets of the body fluids from the patients from reaching the medical staff.

Facemasks also provide protection against the sprays and the splashes coming from others, especially when they cough or sneeze. The downside of these masks is that it is unable to stop the inhalation of all the airborne contaminants.

Facemasks- Are they Effective?


Respirators, also known as N95 respirator masks, are specially designed for protection against even the tiniest particles moving in the air. These respirators are fully certified by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health as well as the CDC.

The name respirator has been given to this type of facemask because they can successfully filer up to 95 percent of all the airborne particles. For this reason, these masks are commonly used to use while managing potentially toxic substances.

RELATED: 5 Pro Tips To Avoid Catching The Flu

Respirators are normally considered to fit your face. They need to be of such a size that they form a seal and prevent any gaps for particles to enter in.

Healthcare workers use respirators to gain protection against diseases like anthrax and tuberculosis. In contrast to facemasks, respirators can filter both large and small particles.

Overall speaking, respirators are actually considered to be a lot more effective in the prevention of viruses such as flu. Still, many studies have found that both masks have their own benefits.

Guidelines to Wear Facemasks Properly

The CDC revised its guidelines in the year 2010 regarding the use of masks in flu. These guidelines recommend that all the healthcare workers must wear facemasks within the premises of the hospital in order to stop the transmission of flu.

They also suggest offering these masks to the patients who have been diagnosed with respiratory infections. Respirators are, however, limited to be used by the healthcare workers during the performance of medical procedures.

Facemasks can help to decrease the transmission of flu to a significant extent. However, this is only possible if they are used properly and more frequently.

Facemasks- Are they Effective?

Following are some of the guidelines that need to be followed for using facemasks.

  • You must wear a facemask when you come within six feet of a person suffering from a respiratory disease
  • Position the strings in such a way that mask stays in place. The correct position of the mask is when it covers mouth, nose, and the chin.
  • Make sure not to touch the mask while removing it
  • Don’t forget to wear a facemask before you go near people who are suffering from flu
  • If you are suffering from flu and want to consult a doctor, wear a facemask even when you are sitting in the waiting area
  • Also wear a mask when you are sitting in a crowded area, especially during the time when flu is on the rise or in a situation where you are highly susceptible to this infection
  • When you are done wearing it, throw the mask away and do not use it again. Wash your hands afterward

Takeaway: To Wear or Not to Wear Facemasks

As far as flu is concerned, prevention is the best way of keeping yourself safe from this contagious disease. A facemask can provide protection against a lot of infectious diseases. At the same time, these masks do not come with any risks.

The use of facemasks seems to be a lot promising. However, it is also important to know that these facemasks alone cannot provide sufficient level of protection.

Therefore, always remember to tag along appropriate hand washing practices with the use of facemasks. Make sure that you wash your hands properly during flu season, especially if there are a lot of people around you who are falling sick.

Additionally, be sure to get an annual flu shot for the protection of your own body and those of everyone around you.

Nancy Walker

Nancy holds a Medicine degree and a Masters of Science MS in Infectious Disease and Global Health (MS-IDGH) from Tufts University. She worked as a lecturer for three years before she turned towards medical writing. Her area of interest are infectious diseases; causes, mechanism, diagnosis, treatments and prevention strategies. Most of her writings ensure an easy understanding of uncommon diseases.

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