When you think about protecting yourself from the sun during the summer (and year-round, for that matter!), you probably reach for a bottle of sunscreen. Well, it looks like surgical masks might become the SPF winter equivalent when it comes to fending off the flu.
If you’re not concerned about coming down with the illness, keep in mind that the Centers for Disease Control is already calling this year’s season “moderately severe.” And it’s only getting worse, as the virus is now spreading from person to person simply by breathing the same air. Yep, not even sprinting away from the coughing guy in the office is sure to keep you safe.
Obviously the flu shot is a great precaution to take, but due to the whole you-can-breathe-in-the-flu thing, many people are taking their virus-fighting game up a notch by wearing surgical masks—and, of course there’s even a #flumask hashtag to go along with it. But is the facial accessory really necessary?
“Yes, a surgical mask can help prevent the flu. Flu is carried in air droplets, so a mask would mechanically prevent the flu virus from reaching other people.” —Sherif Mossad, MD
“Yes, a surgical mask can help prevent the flu,” Sherif Mossad, MD, an infectious disease specialist at the Cleveland Clinic, told Health. “Flu is carried in air droplets, so a mask would mechanically prevent the flu virus from reaching other people.”
If you’re into the idea, you can easily pick up a value pack of disposable masks so you can toss them out after each use. But, unless you want to make the mask your outfit’s forever third piece, just wear one when you’re the ill patient.
“If you are really using a mask for protection or prevention, you would have to wear it practically 24/7 to avoid any possible contact.” —Susan Besser, MD
“My personal opinion is masks for healthy individuals are more annoying than useful,” said Susan Besser, MD, a Baltimore-based family medicine doctor. “If you are really using a mask for protection or prevention, you would have to wear it practically 24/7 to avoid any possible contact. But if you are actively ill, please do wear a mask. Help keep others healthy and avoid the spread of the flu.”
So while the masks do help prevent the spread of the virus, whether you’re protecting yourself from others or protecting others from yourself, make the two main flu flighters your mainstay modes for protection: a shot and lots of hand washing.