Surgical face masks have a confirmed effectiveness in preventing transmission of seasonal coronaviruses and influenzas, according to new research published in Nature Medicine on Friday.
The amounts of influenza and coronavirus in respiratory droplets were significantly lower among mask wearers, the research highlighted. However, scientists remain unsure about the effectiveness of face masks in preventing transmission of SARS-CoV-2, which causes the coronavirus (COVID-19).
SARS-CoV-2 is closely related to seasonal coronaviruses, a large family of viruses causing various severities of illness, and which can easily be transmitted between people. The viruses range from the relatively benign common cold, to other more severe diseases, such as MERS and SARS.
In the Nature Medicine paper, researchers from the Hong Kong-based Centre for Infectious Disease Epidemiology and Control found that surgical masks significantly reduced the amount of influenza virus in respiratory droplets. This reduction also extended to coronavirus in aerosols, with a trend toward reduced detection of coronavirus in respiratory droplets.
The research team analyzed breath samples from 246 individuals with suspected respiratory viral infections, novel coronavirus, influenza, or rhinovirus. The results were compared for the relative amount of virus in exhaled breath with and without a face mask.
The research showed that masks reduced detectable virus in respiratory droplets and aerosols for seasonal coronaviruses and influenza in 111 people. The report added that patients with rhinovirus did not show any changes.