N95 Respirators Far Better Than Surgical Masks for HCWs: Lancet

The study found that masks reduce the infection risks from 17 to 3 per cent.

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Coronavirus
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A new study published in The Lancet on Monday, 1 June, said that medical health workers should be using N-95 respirator masks not surgical masks to avoid infection.

This is the first study to provide evidence specific to COVID-19, unlike other studies which extrapolated data from studies on similar coronaviruses or respiratory illnesses.

The study, funded by the World Health Organisation, is meta-analysis of 172 existing studies. The results echoed what healthcare workers have been insisting: N-95 masks are the way to go. Previous studies have also proven that the universal wearing of masks is effective.

This new evidence countered the advice doled out by the WHO and the US’s CDC for recommending only surgical masks, if at all.

In fact, the WHO has not recommended the universal use of masks even though they are proven to be one of the simplest and most effective ways to ward of the disease.

According to their guidelines, healthy people need to wear masks only when taking care of a COVID-19 patient.

Masks, Physical Distancing Very Effective in Reducing Risks

The Lancet study found that physical distancing is effective in reducing the risk of transmission: standing three feet away reduces transmission to 3 percent from 13 percent.

It also found that masks reduce the infection risks from 17 to 3 per cent, and eye protection to 6 percent from 16 percent.

It strongly recommends continuing with hand hygiene and maintaining 6 feet of distance from each other - and issuing N-95 masks to protect healthcare workers.

Study Counter WHO Advise on Mask Effectiveness

According to an article in the New York Times, the WHO’s stance has left many public health experts confused and frustrated because often people with COVID-19 are not aware they have the illness and a mask prevents suspected transmission.

Dr Raina MacIntyre, an epidemiologist at the University of New South Wales asked NYT, “what kind of purpose this kind of denial serves, except to harm healthcare workers?”.

The WHO has not yet acknowledged the risk of airborne transmission and has not yet insisted on universal mask wearing to increase our protection.

A study in the journal Science directly called out the WHO and said their hand hygiene and physical distancing suggestions were based on studies from the 1930s.

According to an article in the New York Times, WHO’s stance has left many public health experts confused and frustrated because often people with COVID-19 are not aware they have the illness and a mask prevents suspected transmission.

“When there is uncertainty and you don’t know everything about a disease, you have to be precautionary, which means you have to assume the worst and provide the best for health care workers.”
Dr Raina MacIntyre, an epidemiologist at the University of New South Wales

The study in the Lancet says that healthcare workers need additional safety measures like covering the eyes with face shields, goggles and glasses - which is part of the PPE kit as per the union health ministry guidelines.

The NYT article adds that the CDC still says that surgical masks are enough for healthcare workers unless they are working in aerosol-generating procedures. According to the article, the CDC’s initial recommendation of N-95 masks was retracted due to a lack in their supply.

(With inputs from New York Times)

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