Researchers from Weill Cornell Medicine – Qatar (WCM-Q) have demonstrated the effectiveness of medical face masks in preventing respiratory infections like COVID-19 and strongly recommend their use along with other measures to help mitigate the spread of the disease.   

The research, which was published in the International Journal of Infectious Diseases, was conducted by faculty from the WCM-Q Institute for Population Health (IPH), which carried out a meta-analysis of previous studies on the efficacy of medical face mask use in community settings for preventing flu, flu-like illnesses and other respiratory infections such as SARS and the novel coronavirus.

IPH Group

The research is authored by Dr Karima Chaabna, Dr Sathyanarayanan Doraiswamy, Dr Ravinder Mamtani, and Dr Sohaila Cheema.

Although transmission of COVID-19 through close contact with an infected person or contact with a contaminated surface is recognised, the efficacy of face masks in reducing transmission in household situations and public settings like supermarkets has been contested, and recommendations have been inconsistent.

In countries such as the United States, face masks proved ‘divisive’ and are even politicised, according to Dr Chaabna, and so the group wanted to ascertain – with as much confidence as possible – that the use of face masks prevent the transmission of respiratory diseases.

face masks copyThe group evaluated 12 primary studies which had previously examined medical face mask use and found that the incidence of transmission of respiratory infections was lower if medical face masks were used early and used in conjunction with stringent hand hygiene.

One study conducted during the COVID-19 pandemic found that medical face masks were of particular use in infection control if worn before an individual displayed symptoms of infection.

But the WCM-Q study titled, ‘Facemask use in community settings to prevent respiratory infection transmission: A rapid review and meta-analysis’, was unable to find any evidence that cloth facemasks were effective in reducing transmission in community settings.

It should also be mentioned that there was one study – performed in a healthcare setting – which demonstrated that healthcare workers who wore a two-layer cloth face mask were 13 times more likely to be infected with respiratory illnesses than those who wore medical face masks.

However, this does not mean that cloth face masks are not of use, rather, that medical-grade masks are more effective. The authors suggest that the efficacy of cloth face masks is likely to depend on the number of layers they contain, and the material used.

Dr Mamtani said that the evidence is quite clear that medical face masks should be worn by both healthy and sick individuals in order to reduce virus transmission. He said that the effectiveness of medical face masks obviously depends on them being used correctly and that face masks alone should not be relied upon.

We must all continue to practice all preventive measures including physical distancing and rigorous hand hygiene to minimise the risk of spreading COVID-19 and contracting it.

He added that the evidence for the use of cloth face masks is inconclusive. And because of this, they recommend the use of medical face masks, but if there are no alternative, he said that it would still be prudent to wear a cloth face mask in community settings.

The full study and findings can be read through this LINK.