Face Masks for Swine Flu (H1N1) Virus Prevention

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News coverage of swine flu outbreaks almost always shows people wearing face masks. Do they really need them to protect against ? Do you?

Here’s what you should know:

What Is a Face Mask?

  • Face masks are sold as surgical masks, dental masks, medical procedure masks, isolation masks, or laser masks. There are several designs; some tie around the head, some have elastic bands around the head, and others have ear loops. Price range: $10 to $15 for a box of 50.
  • Washable, reusable face masks should be used only if disposable masks are not available. But none of these reusable masks has been evaluated by the FDA and none can legally be sold to protect against disease.
  • N95 respirators are face masks that fit more tightly to the face. They filter out 95% of small particles when correctly fitted, although this isn’t easy to do in the home setting. Price range: $10 to $60 for a box of 20.
  • Bottom line: Nobody knows whether face masks or respirators really protect against flu. The recommendations below, from the CDC, are experts’ best guesses as to the best way to use them.

Do Face Masks Work Against Swine Flu?

Who Should Wear Face Masks During a Swine Flu Pandemic?

  • Wear a face mask (consider using an N95 respirator) if you must come into close contact with a sick person. “Close contact” means within 6 feet.
  • Wear an N95 respirator if helping a sick person with a nebulizer, inhaler, or other respiratory treatment.
  • If you’ve got the flu, wear a face mask before going near other people.
  • If you’ve got the
  • If you are well, but live in a household with someone who has the flu, wear a face mask before going near other people. Why? You may be infected with the flu bug but don’t yet have symptoms.
  • If swine flu is widespread in your community, you may consider wearing a face mask when in crowded settings.

How to Use a Face Mask During a Swine Flu Pandemic

  • Don’t rely on a face mask as your only protection. Avoid crowds, avoid close contact with sick people, and wash your hands often — even if you wear a mask. And to protect others if you’re sick, observe /sneeze etiquette and stay home.
  • Before putting on a face mask, wash your hands thoroughly.
  • Don’t touch the outside of the face mask while you’re wearing it or when you take it off.
  • Use disposable face masks only once, then — holding them by the bands or ties, not the front of the mask — throw them in the trash. Don’t let the used mask touch anything else.
  • After taking off a face mask, wash your hands thoroughly.
  • Before reusing a fabric face mask (note that these are NOT approved by the FDA), wash it in normal laundry detergent and tumble dry in a hot dryer.