Should You Protect Yourself with a Flu Mask?

It's Flu Season Again...

Some estimates suggest that wearing a flu mask can reduce your chances of catching an airborne bacterial or viral infection by as much as 80 percent. While vaccination remains your best protection against the flu and the H1N1 virus, wearing a germ mask in heavily populated public areas offers added protection and can boost your peace of mind this flu season.

How a Virus Mask Works

A virus mask is known by many names, including "dust mask" and "N95 mask." The reason it's called an N95 mask is that the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has codified standards in place, and the N95 designation means it meets their safety criteria.

A swine flu mask is made of a firm cotton pad, which is placed over the nose and mouth, and held in place by one or more straps. The cotton pad creates a barrier that allows air to pass through, but traps the vast majority of microscopic germs and particles that can cause illness. Thus, you greatly reduce your chances of inhaling a bug that will make you sick, be it a common cold virus, flu virus or H1N1 virus.

The Protection a Flu Mask Offers

A swine flu mask offers effective protection against airborne germs, and greatly reduces the possibility that you will contract an illness by breathing a virus in. However, health care professionals are quick to point out that the majority of colds and flus are not contracted through respiration. Rather, it is much more common for a person to pick up the virus from a contaminated surface, like a bathroom countertop, doorknob or hand railing. If you rub your eye or touch your mouth with the contaminated hand, you'll end up getting sick. A flu mask will not protect you from getting a virus this way.

Thus, you should either supplement your germ mask by wearing cotton gloves when you're in public places, or by getting a flu shot. It's also important to avoid direct contact with people who are or may be getting sick. If a member of your family comes down with flu-like symptoms, it's best to quarantine him or her as much as possible. Caregivers need to be extra-careful, and be sure to wipe down surfaces with cleaning supplies such as disinfectant to further reduce the risk of infection.

Supplementing your flu vaccinations with a germ mask can be an effective way to ward off illness. Protect yourself and your family this flu season.

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