The Lancet Recommends Rational Use of Face Masks
by Stephen Lendman
Though face masks are important to wear for COVID-19 infected persons to prevent spread of the virus to others, they're minimally effective for healthy people.
Still, some protection is better than none. So when around other people, it may be a good idea to wear one.
It'll certainly do no harm and may be beneficial.
According to the Lancet medical journal, wearing them is mandatory in some parts of China for healthcare workers and the public.
The US surgeon general advised against their use by healthy people. A key reason is because they're in short supply.
A personal note. I never wore one earlier and haven't since COVID-19 became an issue of concern in the US.
Today I ordered some online to have for a routine early April medical appointment in the outpatient section of the hospital where offices of my doctors are located.
Hospitals are notorious infection factories where inpatients are treated. Hopefully it'll be much safer in the hospital's section for outpatient visits.
Concern about the possible presence of COVID-19 in any area of the hospital is why I'll wear a face mask and surgical gloves when entering the facility.
It's better to take precautions than be sorry. Workers in the building where I live wear protective gloves, not face masks.
The Lancet noted that universal face mask use is discouraged because of minimal protection at best they offer, adding:
"(T)here is an essential distinction between absence of evidence and evidence of absence."
"Evidence that face masks can provide effective protection against respiratory infections in the community is scarce…"
Even so, there's some evidence that wearing one by unwitting COVID-19 carriers, either asymptomatic or "before symptom onset," can reduce transmission so it may be wise for everyone to wear one in public — especially in a hospital or a doctor's office elsewhere, places people with medical issues frequent.
The Lancet stressed the need to prioritize distribution of face masks to "frontline healthcare workers and the most vulnerable populations in communities who are more susceptible to infection and mortality if infected, including older adults (particularly those older than 65 years) and people with underlying health conditions."
I'm a senior in my 9th decade, and like most others my age, have a weaker immune system than when much younger — a key reason for extra precautions.
The Lancet explained that "improper use of face masks, such as not changing disposable (ones), could jeopardize the protective effect and even increase the risk of infection."
Surgical masks worn by health professionals that protect against microorganisms shed in liquid droppings from the nose and mouth are discarded after one-time use.
They're not designed to prevent inhalation of airborne bacteria or virus particles, which is why they offer minimal protection for this purpose at best.
Still some protection is better than none. In his Fitness, Health, and Nutrition newsletter, Dr. Gabe Mirkin explained that "(p)eople over 65 and those with other diseases or a weakened immune system are more" vulnerable to COVID-19 infection.
The great majority of US deaths from the virus were "in their 70s, 80s or 90s."
It's "spread by contagious respiratory droplets," notably by sneezing or coughing, but also touching surfaces recently touched by an infected person.
According to the Lancet, contagion can last up to 37 days.
Mirkin calls face masks "almost useless for preventing infection, but if you are infected, a mask may decrease spread of the virus to others."
"A mask may also discourage you from putting your fingers on your face and mouth to bring the infection to you."
"(P)eople with weak immune systems should avoid crowds, hospitals, and any unnecessary exposure to potentially sick people."
The Lancet called on governments and public health agencies "to make rational recommendations on appropriate face mask use to complement their recommendations on other preventive measures, such as hand hygiene."
The WHO recommends face mask use for persons with respiratory symptoms or if caring for someone with these symptoms.
The Lancet also recommends that "vulnerable populations, such as older adults and those with underlying medical conditions," use face masks, adding:
"Universal use of face masks could be considered if supplies permit."
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