Surgical masks have become a common sight, particularly in Asia, as people try to prevent becoming infected with the infectious agent of the day, be it SARS, seasonal flu or the new pandemic H1N1 influenza virus. But a new study of 1,936 healthcare workers conducted in Beijing during last winter's flu season found that the masks are, for all practical purposes, useless. Dr. Raina MacIntyre of the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia, reported the results Tuesday at an infectious diseases society meeting in San Francisco, according to the Bloomberg news service.
Even the N95 masks that the government recommends for protection blocked only 75% of viruses,according to the article, perhaps because they were not fitted properly. The main problems with them are that they cost as much as 10 times the price of a regular surgical mask, they have to be fitted correctly and they can become uncomfortable after prolonged wearing.
-- Thomas H. Maugh II
Photo credit: Mark Baker / Associated Press