Many reports refer to the newly identified coronavirus in Wuhan, China, as a “mystery” virus. Is it really a mystery? Do masks help keep you from getting infected?
These are some of the questions circulating about the virus called 2019-nCoV. Here are some answers.
Will a mask protect me? There’s a run on masks in China, with the belief that wearing one in public will protect an individual from exposure to droplets sneezed or coughed out by someone infected with the Wuhan virus.
But there’s little evidence to suggest that the face masks worn by members of the public prevent people from being infected by breathing in the virus, says William Schaffner, a professor in the division of infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. “There really are no good, solid, reliable data.”
According to the CDC, the kind of flimsy masks that people often buy in pharmacies may not tightly fit the face, so the wearer can still breathe in air — and infected droplets.
Stanley Perlman, a professor at the University of Iowa who studies coronaviruses, agrees that the mask won’t necessarily prevent infection. But they do have some value, he says: Wearing a mask may stop an individual from directly touching their mouth and nose, which is a common way that viruses and germs enter the body. Masks provide some protection this way, he adds. “But what we teach is that they’re not very good.”
So why bother?Well, and this is not too much to ask, wash your hands.
But there is one thing that experts endorse as a preventive: “Hand hygiene is the answer,” Schaffner says, suggesting soap and water, since the abrasiveness of soap helps remove infectious particles from the hands. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends scrubbing your hands for at least 20 seconds. Make sure to clean the backs of your hands, between your fingers and under your nails, advises the CDC. And scrub for 20 seconds — about as long as it takes to sing, at a moderate pace, the alphabet song.
Let’s see. How does that go? I’ll ask my friend Joe, age 5, and maybe, I say maybe, my other friend Simon, age 2 1/2.