For some people who thought face masks were meant to be used only by healthcare workers, lab scientists or those with some chronic diseases, this period may bring about a new line of thinking.
It is no longer uncommon to see people walking the streets wearing face masks, as well as at other settings where face masks would not commonly be worn prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. To some it appears funny, to others it is distressing and many others can’t express how they feel about it. However, it is recommended and in some places it has become mandatory for people to wear face mask while in public places as well as maintain physical distancing. Looking back, in previous reports, recommendations on the use of face masks by healthy people in public places has not been regarded as critical in preventing the disease, but as more is being discovered about the virus in terms of its likely mode of transmission for instance, recommendations continue to be updated. It’s been reported that the coronavirus can be found in air few hours after being expelled by coughing or sneezing. It can be agreed to never say never following the uncertainties observed during the on-going Coronavirus pandemic.
Facing the realities that the lockdown and other forms of restrictions would eventually be reviewed and some relaxed depending on progress made with containing the virus, there are concerns as to further prevention when that time comes. Knowledge of how to protect one’s self and people around is important. The World Health Organisation recommends
• Frequent cleaning of hands( hand washing or using alcohol-based hand sanitizers)
• Maintaining safe distances, especially from persons who are sneezing or coughing
• Avoiding frequent unnecessary touching of the mouth, nose or eyes
• Hygienically covering the nose and mouth with tissue while sneezing or coughing. One may also choose sneeze into a bent elbow.
• Seeking medical attention when one is experiencing symptoms like cough, fever, difficulty in breathing amongst others. It is essential to avoid unneeded visits to healthcare facilities. It is appropriate to call the health facility in advance if possible.
Recently in Nigeria, as part of measures to control the spread of the disease, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) in its advisory on the use of masks by members of the public without respiratory symptoms, recommends the use of face masks in addition to other measures such as physical distancing, hand as well as respiratory hygiene. One of the reasons for the advice on face masks is to prevent those who are infected but asymptomatic (not showing any symptoms) from spreading the virus. However, masks have to be properly disposed, and when possible washed thoroughly. Masks may be disposable, made out of cloth or other materials. Although recommended, it is important to note that wearing of face masks, on its own, is not an absolute protection from COVID-19 and should be combined with other preventive measures like physical distancing, frequent washing of the hands among others. Also, it is advised to avoid touching face to adjust face mask frequently as doing so may introduce virus on the face.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), in the advice on the use of masks in the context of COVID-19 (April 2020), the main routes of transmission of the COVID-19 virus include contact and respiratory droplets. Also, evidence of transmission from symptomatic, pre-symptomatic and asymptomatic infected persons has been reported. This suggests that the virus can be spread by people who show confirmed symptoms of the disease or people who are infected but do not show symptoms of the disease. Some individuals may test positive for the disease before showing symptoms. Some characteristics of medical masks include high filtration, adequate breathability, fluid penetration resistance amongst others. Using mask can prevent spreading infectious droplets and protect the environment from getting contaminated. It is essential to note that WHO reports that there is limited evidence that wearing medical mask by healthy people or contacts of a sick person may be a preventive measure. The reports, form evidence, suggest that the use of mask alone does not to protect one adequately or completely from being infected with coronavirus (COVID-19).
The use of masks should not be used as false security from the disease but should be used along with other vital preventive measures. One should ensure that adequate care is taken to avoid self-contamination that could occur due to frequent touching of parts of the face beneath the mask or from the reuse of contaminated mask that has not been properly cleaned. Due to the possibility of shortage in supply, it is recommended that medical masks be prioritized for health care workers.
Non-medical masks made from other materials should also be used with care.
Irrespective of the type of mask, it is very important that masks are used and disposed appropriately, maintaining high hygienic standards to avoid transmission of the coronavirus. Some tips on correct use of masks as recommended by WHO include:
• Ensure the mask covers the nose and mouth with minimal gaps between the face and the mask, place it carefully and securely
• Remove the mask appropriately, untie from behind, do not touch the front of the mask as it may be contaminated
• Keep away from touching the mask while wearing to avoid contamination.
• Wash hands after removing mask or if the front of the mask is touched
• Discard single-use masks after use, dispose hygienically and do not reuse
• For reusable masks, clean properly immediately after use.
Information provided here on COVID-19 (transmission, prevention amongst others) is subject to update as more information on the disease emerges.
Encouraging someone who is showing symptom of the disease to seek medical attention can save lives and giving correct history of contact with an infected person or recent travel is essential in controlling the disease. For further enquiries and to report symptoms kindly contact your primary care provider for further assessment.
Health quote of the week
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” –Benjamin Franklin