According to the World Health Organization (WHO), wearing a medical mask is one of the prevention measures to limit the spread of certain respiratory diseases, including COVID-19, in affected areas. However, the use of a mask alone is insufficient to provide the adequate level of protection and other equally relevant measures should be adopted.
If masks are to be used, this measure must be combined with hand hygiene and other infection prevention and control (IPC) measures to prevent the human-to-human transmission of the disease. India's Ministry of Health and Family Welfare also recently issued guidelines to increase awareness about the use of masks.
The guidelines emphasise that medical masks should not be used by healthy persons who are not having any symptoms because it can create a false sense of security that can lead to neglecting other essential measures such as washing of hands.
"Further, there is no scientific evidence to show health benefit of using masks for non-sick persons in the community. In fact erroneous use of masks or continuous use of a disposable mask for longer than 6 hours or repeated use of same mask may actually increase risk of getting an infection. It also incurs unnecessary cost," it added.
If you are healthy, you only need to wear a mask if you are taking care of a person with suspected coronavirus infection. But you should also wear a mask if you are coughing or sneezing.
Masks are effective only when used in combination with frequent hand-cleaning with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water, the guidelines added.
Before putting on a mask, clean hands with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water. Cover mouth and nose with mask and make sure there are no gaps between your face and the mask. Avoid touching the mask while using it. If you do, clean your hands with an alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water.
Replace the mask with a new one as soon as it is damp and do not re-use single-use masks.
To remove the mask, take it out from behind as touching the front of the mask is not advised. After removing the mask, you need to discard it immediately in a closed bin and clean the hands with an alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water.
Medical masks of different size and shapes are available in the market. The common ones are flat pleated masks of woven fabric which cover the nose and mouth and are affixed behind the head with straps/elastic fasteners.
There are also conical or duck bill shaped masks with valves (or without valves) that fit in the contour of the face over the nose and mouth, but are costlier, according to the guidelines issued by the ministry.
According to the WHO, the route of human-to-human transmission of COVID-19 is either via respiratory droplets or contact. Any person who is in close contact - within 1 metre -- with someone who has respiratory symptoms like sneezing, coughing, etc. is at risk of being exposed to potentially infective respiratory droplets.