With this year’s flu season colliding with the COVID-19 pandemic, you may be wondering if you need to run out to get a separate, reusable flu mask. The simple answer is “no” because you’ll experience many of the same benefits a mask provides against coronavirus as you will in the fight against the flu. But there is an element that you can add to your life when it comes to influenza.
The best way to protect yourself against the flu is to take the flu vaccination. All adults and children aged 6 months and older should get vaccinated once every year. The ideal time for getting your flu shot is now. Typically, the season begins in October and reaches its peak in January or February. It can last until May.
The flu shot is one part of your self-defense strategy against the flu and coronavirus this winter. Specifically, your COVID-19 mask can provide added protection. Let’s look at some ways keeping your mask handy will decrease the risk of contracting influenza and coronavirus.
If you already have the virus, you won’t be re-exposed to it by wearing a mask, and you won’t be re-exposed to viral particles that you exhale. In fact, research shows that you can't reinfect yourself if you already have the virus, and it's impossible for it to somehow "reactivate" in your body.
The common rumor that they reduce the oxygen saturation level of your blood has been debunked.
And despite claims that a mask could exacerbate health conditions like asthma, doctors have repeatedly stated that there's no legitimate reason for a medical exemption from wearing a mask. Strategies like fitting your mask properly and choosing the right type of mask can help.
Research shows that the primary benefit of wearing a mask is to prevent the people around you from getting sick. But some researchers aren’t so sure about the effectiveness of the mask versus influenza. However, they do contend that as with hand hygiene, face masks might be able to reduce the transmission of other infections and therefore have value, especially during a pandemic when healthcare resources are stretched.
As many as 40% of people infected with the coronavirus show no symptoms at all. Another study found asymptomatic carriers of the influenza virus can still spread it to other people without ever knowing they were sick in the first place.
Also, keep this in mind: COVID-19 symptoms generally appear two to 14 days after exposure. Flu symptoms usually appear about one to four days after exposure.
Health experts continue to recommend other precautions to slow the spread of influenza and the coronavirus, such as washing your hands frequently and maintaining at least a 6-foot distance from others whenever possible. You should also ensure that your immune system is in tip-top shape by eating a healthy diet or supplementing.
Research shows that these preventative measures, when combined, can significantly reduce the rate of transmission and save lives.
The bottom line is that this will be a cold and flu season unlike any other and that any mask that covers the nose and mouth will be of benefit.
Based on the findings of the most recent studies, the most important consideration may be comfort. The best mask is one you can wear comfortably and consistently, but surgical masks are generally more protective than cloth masks.
Studies show masks can help limit the spread of seasonal flu by decreasing virus-containing droplets that are exhaled. Overall, researchers found masks led to a more than threefold reduction in how much virus people sprayed into the air.
Another study found that “vaccination and wearing a mask reduced the likelihood of developing seasonal influenza.” And another group of researchers discovered that flu rates were lower when masks were paired with proper hand hygiene.
Influenza spreads much the same way as COVID-19, and flu season spans the winter months because people are in close contact with each other while they are cooped up inside. That’s why now is the time to start wearing a mask if you’re not already.
And if you’d like to learn more about the characteristics of both influenza and COVID-19, visit our new infographic. You’ll find all of the similarities and differences between the viruses and other ways to protect yourself.