Everywhere we look, we see nothing but pictures of coloured surgical masks as if these have some paranormal ability to “protect” the wearer. These, we presume, work. Right? After all, they are part of the “national plan” to stop the spread of flu viruses right? We’ve been told that the two main means of infection are contact: as in shake someone’s hand, put hand in mouth; picking up droplets from furniture (fomites), or being directly coughed or sneezed over. Right? Masks supposedly are to contain what the infectious people cough out, to protect others, so wearers also assume that masks protect them from the “environment” around them. Why else would people on the streets of Mexico, and doctors, be wearing them? Right? Wrong, actually, on both counts.
A fascinating, hugely indepth, 47 page, 2008 medical study says, on page 858: “In conclusion, our analysis suggests that aerosol transmission (inhaling <20μm droplet nuclei that reside in the air) is far more dominant than contact transmission for influenza”.
We’re not talking about the larger gobs of stuff from sneezing here. We’re talking about minute droplets, floating effortlessly around suspended in the air, for long periods of time. The study is the best review of infection transmission I’ve ever read, and echoes concern in another 2008 article, which reads, “Which of the three transmission modes is responsible for most influenza infections remains highly controversial…” This study showed that, “Airborne transmission through droplet nuclei does not require face-to-face contact with the infectious case.”
On February 2009, the most recent study used special aerosol samplers strategically placed in hospitals and on doctors, which found that, “Small particles (diameter, <10 μm), including droplet nuclei from evaporated larger particles, can remain airborne for hours and are easily inhaled deeply into the respiratory tract.”
“Oh Good” you say. Then masks are the way to go!
But hangon …. do the sorts of masks we see in the paper and on internet, work?
Is that mask you bought, any use?
A 2009 study looked at a range of surgical masks and found “The filters of most of these surgical masks will allow a large majority of wearer-generated particles to penetrate and will collect only a small percentage of airborne particles generated by infectious patients.”
So, most of the infectious particles shoot straight out the side gaps and material holes.
The so-called safer N95 fitted filters, which must have a fit factor of 100 preventing inside particles getting out, and outside particles getting in, didn’t meet the performance criteria of having less than 5% penetration. That simply reiterated a 2006 article which showed that ordinary dental or surgical masks weren’t much use, and that “protection against the airborne viral agents provided by some N95 respirators may fall below 95%, especially at higher inhalation flow rates.” Better, but not fool proof. Keeping in, or out 95% is better than none, but surely that 5% might be just as lethal to someone as 1%? A fact not lost on those dealing with ebola, who go in looking like men from mars.
As the last article pointed out, surgical masks are supposed to protect the environment from you, but they only do that in the “grossest” of senses. If you are wearing a mask and you cough or sneeze, “productively” you will take off that mask, rather than breathe back muck. You might also thoroughly impregnating your hands and your surroundings while disposing of the soggy mask.
How will you dispose of it, by the way? Then you put on another mask, and repeat the process?
Is the value of masks giving total protection, an illusion? A placebo, maybe?
It seems that it’s not the large infectious particles that matter anyway, according to most medical articles, because they tend to be obviously disposed of, or drop fast out of the way of hands and faces. And we don’t generally put our feet in our mouths. At least not literally! It’s the smallest of the small droplet nuclei, which go through the mask, or leak out the sides as you breath out, which seemingly remain suspended in the air, then going deep into someone else’s lungs, which just might cause most influenza infections. Something, which they say, requires a whole lot more studies to clarify. Given that they've been studying this for decades, you'd think they'd figured it out by now, but no.
My point in discussing this, is that pandemic plans can be based on assumptions, which might not be correct. Any fuzzy protection you feel from wearing a mask, beyond the grossly visible mucus from close face to face rubbing noses type contact, might simply be an illusion. Which is probably better than nothing. Perhaps, wearing masks stops "headless chook syndrome"?
Am I worried? No. Worrying just trashes the immune system. I do my best to keep healthy, and have ways and means not in any Health Department manual. Will they work? I don’t know.
But I’m sure at some point, these facts about infection and mask inadequacies will surface. Eventually, as medical people realise that their inaccurate factmercials might cause massive infection spread when the "wolf" finally arrives, the “new” information I've just shared could be used as “shock doctrine” to create an even higher level of fear with far more stringent laws enacted.
Will people consider the fact that in the past they were told a load of rubbish? Or will the sheep comply quickly and without questioning? Will they ask themselves whether the “new” laws and requirements are any better or more scientifically valid than the old? Why would they, if the first time around, they were also oblivious to the fact that what they were told in the past was incorrect assumption?
More to the point, who will tell people that there are many medical studies on the internet which infer that worldwide, people who succumb to respiratory infections of any kind, including influenza, are often vitamin D deficient? An article in 2005 showed New Zealand children at risk. The September 2007 issue of New Zealand Medical Journal was devoted to the fact that New Zealand’s population as a whole, is woefully vitamin D deficient in winter. More recently in NZMJ on 28 November 2008, NZ doctors were told that vitamin D insufficiency is common in adults living in New Zealand. Given that there is considerable information linking winter vitamin D deficiency to respiratory infections including simple colds, why are the New Zealand medical authorities who wrote in the NZMJ articles, and the GP's who have received their own journal not gone out there, to educate people about ONE VERY SIMPLE THING they can do, to protect themselves against a whole raft of respiratory illnesses including influenza? What are they waiting for? Ten long term, randomized, double blind, placebo controlled studies, formed into a meta-analysis in 2050? Why is vitamin D information not amongst the media's influenza "P plus glock"?
Might that be, because such information doesn't inflate the benefits of "shock doctrine"?
Who will admit that sun exposure and nutritional status matters when it comes to infection? Who will admit that there are plenty of natural ways to fight the flu?
To work out a truly effective, individual “health” plan, let along any effective pandemic plan for your household or the nation, might need to do a whole lot more thinking than comes from reading newspapers, politically expedient policy or watching TV.
Working out the right things to do for your family, might involve you having to think outside of the mould, because your own survival just might depend on it.