Coronavirus; N 95 masks are not essential for prevention, suggest doctors. (representative image, source: Getty Images)
Suppliers and consumers are reportedly struggling with the shortage of N95 masks with the demand increasing amid the coronavirus scare. The price of masks has also shot up in the past few weeks.
There has, however, been much debate about whether N95 masks can really offer protection from coronavirus. Doctors suggest that one need not wear a mask unless there has been exposure to an infected patient.
Dr Sandeep Patil, chief intensivist and physician, Fortis Hospital, Kalyan, told indianexpress.com, "N95 masks can be worn by people who are exposed to coronavirus infected patients, are treating them, or are doing procedures in the ICU. It is recommended that these healthcare workers wear masks for protection. Those who have flu-like symptoms such as cough, cold and fever can use masks to prevent further transmission."
Dr Arunesh Kumar, senior consultant and head, respiratory medicine/pulmonology, Paras Hospital Gurgaon, explained, "Aerosol (tiny liquid droplets) are generated during procedures like nebulisation or bronchoscopy, which may be infected. So wearing a mask in this case can help fight the bacteria. But it is not necessary for the public to wear it. You can wear a mask as added protection but you do not need it."
World Health Organisation (WHO) has also issued guidelines on wearing masks. According to the official website, here's when you should wear a mask:
*If you are healthy, you only need to wear a mask if you are taking care of a person with suspected 2019-nCoV infection.
* Wear a mask if you are coughing or sneezing.
* Masks are effective only when used in combination with frequent hand-cleaning with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water.
* If you wear a mask, then you must know how to use it and dispose of it properly."
Experts have also warned that one could get infected from one's mask if not worn correctly. "Repeating the same mask over and over again or keeping it in the open can increase the chance of infection," Dr Patil emphasised. "The mask should ideally not be thrown in a municipal dustbin because that can be a biological hazard. It needs to be discarded properly by incineration," he added.
According to WHO, here's how you should use a mask:
*Before putting on a mask, clean hands with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water.
* Cover mouth and nose with mask and make sure there are no gaps between your face and the mask.
* Avoid touching the mask while using it; if you do, clean your hands with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water.
* Replace the mask with a new one as soon as it is damp and do not re-use single-use masks.
* To remove the mask: Remove it from behind (do not touch the front of the mask); discard immediately in a closed bin; clean hands with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water."
Experts have advised against being in crowded places to avoid exposure to infection, apart from other preventive measures like handwashing and disinfecting objects you touch. For protection, you can wear a three-layered mask or the hospital mask instead, advised Dr Kumar. "That should be enough for protection. But make sure the mask you wear is hygienic because your own secretion on it can pass on infection. You are constantly breathing into the mask, which contaminates it. Wash the mask if it is for reuse or dispose it after six to seven hours and wear a new one," he recommended.
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