Mask up, ladies! It’s your effective shield against Covid-19 and air pollution
By Emily Hagan | Published on Oct 18, 2023
The fight against Covid-19 requires us to take multiple precautions, such as social distancing, handwashing, and vaccination. However, one precaution that should never be overlooked is wearing a mask. Not only does it provide protection against the virus, but a recent study published in The BMJ also confirms its effectiveness in reducing the incidence of Covid-19.
According to the study, wearing a mask leads to a significant 53% reduction in the transmission of Covid-19. Physical distancing, on the other hand, offers a 25% reduction. These findings make it clear that mask-wearing, alongside other preventive measures like social distancing and handwashing, should continue even with the ongoing vaccine programs. And here’s an added bonus: wearing a mask also helps protect you from air pollution.
Dr. Rohini Kelkar, a senior consultant in Infectious Diseases, Clinical Microbiology, and Molecular Microbiology, emphasizes the importance of Covid-appropriate behavior in combating the twin challenges of Covid-19 and air pollution. While vaccination can control Covid-19, no one is immune to air pollution. Masks act as a firefighting measure and are much more than just a fashion statement.
Covid-19 and Air Pollution: A Dangerous Duo
As we brace ourselves for another wave of Covid-19, it’s worth noting that the virus can hitch a ride on air pollution. Dr. Kelkar explains that Covid-19 is transmitted through large particles called droplets and smaller particles known as aerosols. These particles can remain viable and infectious in the air for hours and on surfaces for days. Air pollution, comprised of particulate matter like dust, dirt, soot, smoke, and liquid droplets, plays a significant role in spreading the virus.
While larger smoke particles are visible, the smaller particles measuring 2.5µm are not. These tiny particles can carry droplet nuclei, making the virus more contagious. Moreover, air pollution damages the lungs, making individuals more susceptible to Covid-19 and increasing the risk of severe complications, hospitalization, and even death.
According to a recent report by the Center for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA), high levels of air pollution weaken the body’s defense mechanisms against infections, exacerbating the impact of Covid-19. Poor air quality not only worsens the toll the virus takes on the body but also enhances its ability to spread.
Masks: A Shield Against Covid-19 and Air Pollution
Wearing a mask not only protects you but also prevents the transmission of the virus to others. Dr. Kelkar emphasizes that masks are most effective when everyone wears them. However, there are certain rules to follow when wearing a mask:
- Masks should cover the nose and mouth completely, fitting snugly against the face without any gaps.
- Avoid touching the outer surface of the mask and regularly wash your hands or use hand sanitizer after touching or removing the mask.
- Change the mask if it becomes wet, as respiratory droplets can leak through it, reducing its effectiveness.
- Masks should be worn indoors in public spaces, and wearing them outdoors can also offer protection against air pollution.
- There are different types of masks available, including cloth masks, surgical masks, and N-95 masks.
- Cloth masks made of breathable fabric such as cotton and tightly woven into two or three layers are recommended. These masks can be washed and reused.
Types of Masks: Understanding the Differences
Medical procedure masks or surgical masks are disposable and consist of three layers of non-woven fabric with a filter in the middle layer. They are designed for single-use. N-95 masks, on the other hand, offer the highest level of protection against Covid-19 and air pollution. They filter out the smallest particles and require “NIOSH” certification. However, they should be used following a fit test to ensure no particles leak through. N-95 masks are also disposable.
Cloth masks, although they allow small particles to pass through the fibers, still provide some protection. Approximately 15 to 30 percent of particles are blocked by cloth masks, making them better than nothing. Surgical masks, with tightly woven fibers that don’t allow light to pass through, offer a higher level of protection than cloth masks but lower than N-95 masks.
Contrary to the myth that wearing a mask makes you breathe too much carbon dioxide and makes you sick, wearing masks does not pose any health risks. However, during intense physical activity, such as vigorous exercise, wearing an N-95 mask can cause increased breathing resistance and fatigue among athletes.
As we face the impending gloom of both Covid-19 and air pollution, let’s remember to “kill two birds with one mask” and protect ourselves and others by wearing masks. Safeguarding our health is a responsibility we all share.