Healthy & Fitness Article
Research published at the beginning of April casts serious doubts about the effectiveness of both surgical and cloth masks in preventing the spread of infectious SARS-CoV-2 particles.
In an effort to find more ways of slowing the COVID-19 pandemic, researchers and public health officials around the world have been debating whether using face masks in public might help.
This is a long and fraught debate, and international specialists and decision makers have not reached a consensus.
Earlier this month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued new guidelines on the use of face masks by the public.
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The guidelines encourage people to wear homemade cloth masks while out and about, while still urging them to leave specialized surgical masks and N95 respirators to medical professionals, who have been facing a dangerous shortage.
At the same time, the World Health Organization (WHO), which have also updated their guidelines for the use of protective face masks, warn instead that “The wide use of masks by healthy people in the community setting is not supported by current evidence and carries uncertainties and critical risks.”
So what does the latest scientific evidence indicate?
According to a study recently published in Nature and covered by Medical News Today, surgical masks may go some way toward preventing a person with a viral respiratory infection from spreading infectious particles.
However, while the study did look at coronaviruses, it did not account for SARS-CoV-2, as the initial research had taken place before the start of the current pandemic.
Now, new findings, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, suggest that neither surgical nor cloth masks are at all effective in stopping the spread of SARS-CoV-2.
The research, conducted by investigators from the University of Ulsan College of Medicine, Chung-Ang University Hospital, and Sejong University — all in Seoul, South Korea — involved a group of four participants receiving medical care for COVID-19.
To find out whether — and which — masks could stop the viral particles from spreading, the researchers asked the participants to cough over petri dishes without a mask, while wearing a disposable surgical mask, and while wearing a reusable mask made of cotton cloth.
In each of these three circumstances, the participants had to cough five times. Each time, they did so over a different petri dish.
Finally, the team swabbed the outer and inner surfaces of each mask — cotton or surgical.
They expected to find droplets containing SARS-CoV-2 on the inner surfaces. The question was whether any viral particles had been able to pass through the masks to their outer surfaces.
After analyzing the swabs, the researchers found particles of SARS-CoV-2 on the outsides of both types of mask, suggesting that neither type
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