In the age of the coronavirus, one of the most ubiquitous symbols of the era is the face mask. Anyone sensible is walking around with one when they go outside, they've become a needed resource to health care workers, and they've become a big part of our day to day lives.
Breath masks are designed to help halt the spread of the coronavirus. In short, they redirect breath away from others and trap harmful particles, which slows the spread of many respiratory infections. A new study released by the department of microbiology at The University of Hong Kong has shown that surgical masks cut the spread of harmful airborne particles by up to 75%.
Hamsters were chosen for the experiment because they have similar enzymes to humans. While the study has not been peer reviewed and the sample sizes were in the double digits, the researchers were optimistic about what the results could mean. “The findings implied to the world and the public is that the effectiveness of mask-wearing against the coronavirus pandemic is huge,” Dr. Yuen Kwok-yung, a leading microbiologist from Hong Kong University who helped discover the SARS virus in 2003, said Sunday.
The study, which the Hong Kong team calls the first of its kind, used hamsters in two cages; one group of hamsters infected with Covid-19 and the other healthy. The researchers created three different scenarios: mask barriers placed just on cages with the infected subjects, masks covering the healthy subjects, and one with no mask barriers at all, with a fan between the cages allowing particles to be transmitted between them.
With no mask barriers at all, two-thirds of the healthy hamsters — 66.7% — were infected with the virus within a week, the researchers found.
When the mask was placed over the infected cage, however, that infection rate dropped to 16.7%.The infection rate went up to 33% when the mask barrier was only used to cover the healthy hamsters’ cage.
“In our hamster experiment, it shows very clearly that if infected hamsters or humans — especially asymptomatic or symptomatic ones — put on masks, they actually protect other people. That’s the strongest result we showed here,” Yuen said.
“Transmission can be reduced by 50 (percentage points) when surgical masks are used,
especially when masks are worn by infected individuals,” he said.
“Up to this stage, we do not have a safe and effective vaccine. What remains practical is still either social-distancing measures or wearing masks,” Yuen added.