We know the deal with masks and COVID-19, but what role do they play in the midst of flu season? As COVID-19 continues to spread rapidly, masks are vital in slowing transmission rates. However, they don’t just protect against COVID-19: they are effective in reducing the transmission rates of many respiratory illnesses. The flu, like many respiratory illnesses, is spread through infectious respiratory droplets. Masks prevent those droplets from being exchanged between persons.
Research tells us that those infected with the flu are usually infectious one day before showing symptoms and around five to seven days after they start to exhibit symptomatology. In healthcare settings, surgical masks are used as protective measures between infectious individuals and staff. During the cold and flu season, pre-COVID, some clinics may have even asked symptomatic individuals to wear a mask in their waiting room. Prior to COVID-19, there were many reasons you did not see people wearing masks in the community. As the flu is not a new illness, we have many more medical interventions to prevent complications. However, as mentioned, masks are important in protecting against a variety of respiratory illnesses. Data this year shows that the use of masks and social distancing has had a large impact on the rates of the flu. The CDC reports a historical low of positive flu results, and the United States experienced a 98% decrease in influenza activity when compared to 2019. In part this decrease could be attributed to a decrease in individuals being tested for the flu, but it may also be attributed to the use of masks and social distancing.
When the world begins to move forward from the pandemic, masks will still play a vital role and can be utilized in both the community and healthcare settings.
Transmission Based Precautions.
Modes of transmission of virus causing COVID-19: implications for IPC precaution recommendations.