Coronavirus outbreak: should you wear a face mask?
Since the coronavirus hit ourheadlines a few weeks ago,and now a lot of people seem to be getting ill,not only in China but also in other countries,you may be wondering whetheryou need to wear a face maskto protect yourself against it. So, the advice of the public healthauthorities in most placesis that masks are really not necessaryand they may actually be unhelpful. And one of those reasons is becausepeople will assume that they areprotected when perhaps they’re not. The advice they do give is to keep wellclear of anybody who has got a nasty virus. That’s not the necessarilythe coronavirus, of course,but if you’re worried thenyou should keep your distance. They don’t think the particlescan travel more than about a metre. It’s very different in China wherelots of people are wearing masks,and in fact they’ve beeninstructed to do so. And the reason for that is thatthere is so much of the virus around. So they are protecting other people. The advice is different in different countries,and because we have so few infectionsin a country like the UKor in the United States,on the whole, it’s not reallya sensible precaution to wear a mask. The coronavirus family are airborne viruses,so we know they are spread through theair by people coughing and sneezing. The droplets can either be inhaledby people who breathe them in,or they can land on surfaces which thenpeople might touch with their handsand their hands go to their eyesor their nose or their mouth,and in that way it enters their own body. The sort of face masks thatwe see mostly in picturesseem to be the standard surgical face masksthat are worn in the operating theatre. There is another face mask as well as the N95,and that has a different sort of shape,it’s a bit more round. The standard surgical masks mayhelp prevent some of the transmissionbut they really are not foolproof at all. You can’t stop the viral particlesgoing around the edges for a startand also, they are going tocollect on the outside of the mask. And then as you take it off,they’ll go all over your hands. If your hands go to your facethen you could get infected too. There is a way of getting them off whichinvolves pulling them off with the straps onlybut it’s still a bit of a business. The N95 mask will protect you againstparticles but they’re very hot to wearand they’re very difficult to put on. You have to be trained almost to do it. When it’s on your breathingis quite restricted, too. Wash your hands and keep washing them. This is maybe the most important thingbecause the virus actually is transmittedfrom hands to other hands orfrom skin to skin quite easily. If in doubt, or if you haven’twashed your hands,don’t put your hands anywherenear your eyes, nose or mouth. If you do feel the needto sneeze or cough yourself,use a tissue and then bin it straightaway afterwards, and wash your hands. If you don’t have a tissue so you can’t do that,then sneeze into the inside of your elbowbecause that keeps any virus awayfrom your hands where you mighttransmit it to other people.