Surgical masks protect against colds and flu

They may look silly but a new study finds surgical masks are your best protection against a cold or the flu.

Donning a face mask — either a surgical mask or a P2/N95 respirator mask (high particulate filter mask) — boosts protection from severe respiratory illnesses such as influenza and SARS, say researchers from the University of New South Wales (UNSW). These are not necessarily the same as the dust masks that some people use when cleaning or doing construction work.

In the study, adult mask wearers in the home were four times more likely than non-wearers to be protected against respiratory viruses, including the common cold. The findings…have global implications and are particularly relevant to efforts to combat the spread of flu pandemics and other emerging respiratory diseases such as SARS…

“In a crisis, vaccine development is likely to be delayed and drugs may be in short supply or not available at all,” MacIntyre said. “Limited supplies will be directed first to front line health workers, so masks are an important means of protection for the community, who otherwise may be last in line for vaccines and drugs…”

Wearing a mask is also effective for the raft of common cold viruses that make families sick each winter. But you have to wear it…

I’m such a hermit that I’m seriously considering wearing a mask when I go to town once a week for grocery shopping. I doubt if I have built-in resistance to anything but dog hair.