Your H1N1 mask is probably useless

A meme that began circulating after news spread of several H1N1 cases in Myanmar. Photo: Facebook / Myanmar Breaking News
A meme that began circulating after news spread of several H1N1 cases in Myanmar. Photo: Facebook / Myanmar Breaking News

Are you a healthcare worker? Are you personally taking care of someone infected with H1N1? Are you younger than five or older that 65 years old? No? Then you don’t need to be wearing any kind of face mask to avoid the swine flu virus.

Photos of well-meaning youngsters handing out surgical masks on the streets of Yangon have spread across Myanmar social media pages since news broke of several cases of H1N1 in the city, people are turning to Facebook to crowdsource tips on where to get the most effective respirators, and entire classrooms of schoolchildren are being compelled to cover their faces without knowing why.

mask distribution
Photo: Facebook / News Watch

The contagion plaguing the city is paranoia, not swine flu.

When the H1N1 pandemic broke out in 2009, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published the “Interim Recommendations for Facemask and Respirator Use to Reduce 2009 Influenza A (H1N1) Virus Transmission,” and its advice remains relevant today.

First, it is worthwhile to note that H1N1 is now considered a “a regular human flu virus and continues to circulate seasonally worldwide.” There is no ongoing pandemic. Swine flu has the potential to cause certain complications that other seasonal flu strains do not, but there are strategies to avoid it, and they are based on fact, not hysteria.

So what are these strategies?

They’re actually the same as the ones you should use to avoid other seasonal flus, since they are both transmitted from person to person, either by inhaling the virus or by touching surfaces contaminated with the virus, then touching the mouth or nose.

To avoid infection, cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze, wash your hands often, stay home when you’re sick, and avoid contact with people who have flu-like symptoms. Also, if you know there are people infected with H1N1 in your community, try to avoid crowded places.

Doesn’t wearing a facemask or a respirator help? Actually, the CDC doesn’t recommend the use of facemasks or respirators, except in a tiny number of situations.

If you are at high risk of H1N1 infection, meaning you are pregnant, you’re undergoing immunosuppression, you already have a respiratory infection, or you’re under the age of five or over 65, here are the few situations when you are recommended to wear a respirator:

  • If you live in a community with known H1N1 infections, and you are in a crowded place
  • If you are a personal caregiver so someone with flu-like symptoms and you cannot avoid being in that position
  • If you are a healthcare worker and are caring for people with H1N1 or flu-like symptoms

If you are not at increased risk, there is only one situation when you are recommended to wear a facemask or respirator:

  • If you are a healthcare worker and are caring for people with H1N1 or flu-like symptoms

Hopefully, these recommendations will save you some time and help you focus on more productive endeavors.

However, if you decide to wear a mask anyway, or if you are, in fact, a healthcare worker or are caring for someone with flu-like symptoms, make sure you get an FDA-approved N95 respirator, which prevents small particles from entering the body. Surgical, dental, or other loose-fitting facemasks only prevent the entry of large droplets.

respirator
An FDA-approved N95 respirator. Photo: wearamask.org

What about those fabric masks that motorbike drivers wear? Those are not for disease prevention. However, according to wearamask.org, they show creativity and a sense of humor.

mask
A useless mask. Photo: wearamask.org

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CITY: YANGONCATEGORY: NEWSSUB-CATEGORIES: HEALTH

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