Since the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic, people all across the globe have started using facemasks to prevent the spread of infection from one person to the other. Also the government and health ministries of several countries are encouraging people to wear facemasks whenever they step outside their home. But till date the efficacy of the facemasks in controlling the spread is not determined. So how effective are facemasks against COVID?
This study conducted by Baruch Vainshelboim about the adverse psychological, physiological and health effects of facemasks provides an answer.
Types of Facemasks
Facemasks are one of the major non-pharmaceutical interventions that have been used across the globe to prevent the spread of infection.
These face masks are of two types – Medical and Non-Medical. Medical face masks are further divided in two categories;
- National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)-certified N95 mask
- Surgical mask
N95 masks use electret filters and can tightly seal the face whereas surgical masks are comparatively loose fitting.
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Non-medical facemasks are made of fabric or cloth. The fabrics used to make non-medical masks can be cotton, polyester, Polypropylene, Silk or many others.
SARS-CoV-2 mainly infects the respiratory system and causes complications such as acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS).
However, it is still not clear how the facemasks are effective in protecting someone from getting infected. They rather cause breathing issues, hypoxemia and also may escalate existing chronic conditions.
This hypothesis focuses on four major aspects:
- the practice of wearing face masks has affected safety and efficacy profile
- Both medical and non-medical face masks are not effective in reducing transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19
- Wearing facemasks has adverse psychological and physiological effects
- There are adverse long-term consequences of wearing face masks.
Breathing is the most important function required to be alive and healthy. A continuous and adequate supply of oxygen is very essential for all the body organs to function properly.
If the level of oxygen will decrease in our body then we may have to face serious consequences on the health front. And, wearing facemasks could cause such issues.
Efficacy of Facemasks
If we look at the physical properties of both medical or non-medical masks, then we will come to the conclusion that these masks are not effective in blocking the virus particles.
The pores in these masks are at least 1000 times larger in diameter (55 µm to 440 µm) as compared to the diameter of virus particles (60 nm to 140 nm).
In a randomized controlled trial two groups were made; one of symptomatic and other of asymptomatic patients.
What was found was that the virus gets transmitted from one person to another in the group of symptomatic patients whether they wore masks or not.
But no transmission was reported in aerosols in asymptomatic groups whether they wore masks or not.
Same meta-analysis was done with health care workers and the results were identical.
In early publication the WHO stated that “facemasks are not required, as no evidence is available on its usefulness to protect non-sick persons”.
In the same publication, the WHO declared that “cloth (e.g. cotton or gauze) masks are not recommended under any circumstance”.
However, in later publication the WHO contradicted these statements and published that wearing fabric-made facemasks is a general community practice for “preventing the infected wearer transmitting the virus to others and/or to offer protection to the healthy wearer against infection (prevention)” .
Physiological effects of wearing facemasks
Wearing facemask mechanically restricts breathing by increasing the resistance of air movement during both inhalation and exhalation process.
It may alter oxygen and CO2 levels in our body and can cause serious health issues in the long term.
Also, various germs and bacteria residues on the inner and outer surface of the masks can also lead to infections.
Psychological effects of wearing Facemasks
Wearing a mask has a negative psychological effect on the wearer and also on the people around the wearer. Also it hampers social life.
Humans are social animals; talking and interacting has a lot to do with facial expressions that get hidden by wearing the masks and thus people lose connectivity.
Long-Term health consequences of wearing Facemasks
Wearing face masks continuously for longer durations has strong potential for devastating health consequences.
Being in a prolonged hypoxic-hypercapnic state negatively affects the normal physiological and psychological balance. It also promotes the developing and progression of existing chronic diseases.
The existing scientific evidence questions the efficacy of wearing facemask as preventive intervention for COVID-19. Also the governments, health organizations and policy makers should come up with a scientific evidence-based approach with respect to wearing facemasks.
This study titled Facemasks in the COVID-19 era: A health hypothesis was conducted by Baruch Vainshelboim and published in Med Hypotheses on 2021 Jan.