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Do surgical masks protect against illness?

Published: Feb. 18, 2020 at 7:24 AM CST
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While surgical masks may reduce the chances of contact with airborne illnesses, Dr. Amy Seery at Ascension Via Christi says they don't provide complete protection.

The Center for Disease Control does not recognize surgical masks as a means of protection from viruses. Health professionals use N95 respirators that are formed tightly around the nose and mouth. Dr. Seery says N95s are expensive and not practical for the public.

"Surgical masks aren't bad. If you're stuck in something like a plane, I don't think it's going to do you much good," Dr. Seery says. Unfortunately, it doesn't stop all the air that you breathe in around the mask, but if you're out and about in a community that has the flu, for example, it might reduce your chances of coming into contact with that flu virus while walking through someone's sneeze cloud."

Dr. Seery recommends researching before travel, and listening to travel warnings issued by health professionals. If there are no current cases, it is unlikely that you would come into contact with the virus, however, you cannot rule the possibility out completely.

While the United States only has 15 confirmed cases of coronavirus, health officials across the country want to be prepared if the coronavirus comes into our communities.

Dr. Seery says hospitals are making sure they have the right supplies, have adequate testing facilities and train healthcare professionals on spotting the symptoms.

The CDC and the World Health Organization are working each day to better understand the illness. Dr. Seery says the best thing you can do for your family is listen to the recommendations from professionals.

"Continue to listen to the news reports that are coming out, especially from the CDC and the World Health Organization. As they continue to gather more data and understand this illness better, we will all be better prepared on what might be ready to come and infect our community. It may not be a disaster, but it could be a significant illness and listening to the advice of healthcare professionals is highly recommended," Dr. Seery says.

In addition to staying away from areas with current outbreaks, doctors say the best way to protect yourself from coronavirus is the same way you protect yourself from spreading the flu. Dr. Seery says good hand washing, coughing into your elbow and not touching your face are good preventative measures.

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