MAR 07, 2020 9:28 AM PST

Do Surgical Masks Really Prevent the Spread of COVID-19?

WRITTEN BY: Annie Lennon

As COVID-19 has spread around the world, there has been a global run on surgical masks. This has led some governments, such as that in India, to ban the export of surgical masks, with others recommending citizens to ‘make their own’ to make up for shortages. But do surgical masks actually prevent the spread of COVID-19? 

Although it may seem intuitive that covering your nose and mouth will prevent your chances of contracting the virus, it may not be so simple. According to the United States Department of Labor, although somewhat effective in preventing person-to-person transmission, surgical masks do not prevent one from catching respiratory illnesses such as the flu and COVID-19. 

This comes as surgical masks are not actually designed to prevent the inhalation of small airborne particles. Although they may be effective in preventing contact with larger hazards, such as splashes of blood, as they do not seal tightly on the user’s face, it is very possible for contaminated air to make its way through the gaps, from where they are then inhaled. More than this, the ability of such masks to filter air varies as much according to the materials used for the masks, and so are generally not relied upon to protect against airborne infections in high-risk settings such as hospitals. 

Although surgical masks may not be good at preventing a person from catching COVID-19 however, they may be more effective in preventing its spread. In covering the user’s mouth and nose, they may be able to prevent person-to-person infection by catching and trapping large particles from bodily fluids expelled by the user that may contain bacteria or viruses. Thus, especially for those suspected of being sick with COVID-19 or other respiratory infections, wearing a surgical mask is generally recommended to prevent transmission of the virus.

To be able to both prevent the catching and spreading of the virus, the US Department of Labor recommends people to use a respirator instead. Available in various sizes, as they are better able than surgical masks to tightly seal around the user’s face, they force air to be inhaled via the mask’s filter material, rather than any gaps, thus trapping any harmful particles and reducing one’s chance of infection on either end. 



Sources: United States Department of Labor, TIME and Sciencealert

 

About the Author
  • Science writer with a keen interest in behavioral biology, consciousness medicine and technology. Her current focus is how the interplay of these fields can create meaningful interactions, products and environments.
You May Also Like
JAN 26, 2021
Drug Discovery & Development
Gut Microbiota Reveals Drug Activity
JAN 26, 2021
Gut Microbiota Reveals Drug Activity
Inflammatory bowel diseases cannot be entirely cured but instead, the symptoms are treated with anti-inflammat ...
FEB 07, 2021
Drug Discovery & Development
Beta-Blockers Can Repair Broken Blood Vessels
FEB 07, 2021
Beta-Blockers Can Repair Broken Blood Vessels
Propranolol is a drug that can treat infantile haemangiomas but was found to also treat a blood vessel condition that le ...
FEB 24, 2021
Drug Discovery & Development
How Caffeine Changes the Brain?
FEB 24, 2021
How Caffeine Changes the Brain?
Caffeine is the worlds most consumed psychoactive substance which includes coffee, cola or an energy drink. However, res ...
MAR 03, 2021
Drug Discovery & Development
Keeping HIV Latent
MAR 03, 2021
Keeping HIV Latent
When (HIV) human immunodeficiency virus infects cells, it can go to sleep as opposed to make viral copies of itself&mdas ...
MAY 04, 2021
Cell & Molecular Biology
A Potential Weakness in SARS-CoV-2 is Caught on Video
MAY 04, 2021
A Potential Weakness in SARS-CoV-2 is Caught on Video
You can see the spike protein of the virus in action in this video.
MAY 15, 2021
Neuroscience
Eye Scans May Indicate Early Signs of Alzheimer's
MAY 15, 2021
Eye Scans May Indicate Early Signs of Alzheimer's
Researchers from the University of California San Francisco have found that retinal scans can detect changes in blood ve ...
Loading Comments...