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  • Flu Prevention

Wear a Face Mask to Prevent Flu and COVID-19

couple wearing face masks
Posted on November 18, 2020

There are many different actions public health professionals and scientists have recommended we all take to reduce the spread of COVID-19. One of the easiest – and one we see everywhere these days – is wearing a face covering over the nose and mouth. Did you know when you wear a mask, you not only may help prevent COVID-19 infections, you also are reducing the spread of influenza (flu)?

How do face masks decrease the spread of COVID-19 and flu?

Flu and COVID-19 viruses can spread from person to person through respiratory droplets that come from your nose and mouth while talking, sneezing, and coughing. Masks create a barrier for these respiratory droplets. The barrier makes it harder for respiratory droplets to travel through the air and into other people’s bodies. People with COVID-19 and flu can have no symptoms, but still be sick and infect others unknowingly. So wearing masks can help slow the potential spread of both viruses.

What do the data show?

These studies are just a few of many that highlight the importance of wearing masks:

  • After the State of Arizona implemented a mask mandate, there was a 75% decrease in COVID-19 cases this summer.
  • A 2013 study divided people infected with flu into two groups: mask-wearers and non-mask wearers. The researchers asked the participants to exhale, and then scientists measured how much virus came out of their nose and mouth. They found that those who wore a mask had significantly less flu virus come out of their nose and mouth, which means that they were less likely to spread the flu to others while wearing a mask.
dos and donts of wearing face masks
credit: CDC

Face masks for flu prevention

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, it was common practice for patients exhibiting flu symptoms to wear masks while in healthcare settings. Healthcare professionals have also traditionally worn a mask when treating patients with influenza. When both people wear a mask, the infected individual is less likely to pass their illness onto their healthcare provider or others.

This flu season, as COVID-19 and flu spread simultaneously, it’s possible that there will be fewer cases of influenza because people are wearing masks, social distancing, and practicing better hygiene (e.g., hand washing).

What else can I do besides wearing a mask?

Masks are one of many tools we have in our flu prevention toolkit. It’s still important to follow other precautionary approaches such as getting an annual flu vaccine, covering coughs and sneezes, avoiding large crowds, and staying home when sick.

Sources:
https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2768533
https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6940e3.htm
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3591312/
https://www.cdc.gov/flu/professionals/infectioncontrol/maskguidance.htm

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