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Coronavirus: WHO keeps facemask guidelines despite research suggesting they’re necessary
April 3, 2020
WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic was speaking to Express.co.uk after the publication of a report suggesting facemasks helped “prevent transmission” of the illness – and he suggested masks helped “create a false sense of security” leading to complacency. The research, published in Nature Medicine, was undertaken by a team of scientists led by Benjamin Cowling of the University of Hong Kong.
Our results indicate that surgical face masks could prevent transmission of human coronaviruses and influenza viruses from symptomatic individuals
Study published in Nature Medicine
Their report stated: “We identified seasonal human coronaviruses, influenza viruses and rhinoviruses in exhaled breath and coughs of children and adults with acute respiratory illness.
“Surgical face masks significantly reduced detection of influenza virus RNA in respiratory droplets and coronavirus RNA in aerosols, with a trend toward reduced detection of coronavirus RNA in respiratory droplets.
“Our results indicate that surgical face masks could prevent transmission of human coronaviruses and influenza viruses from symptomatic individuals.”
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The study focused on participants recruited between March 2013 and 2016, several years before the COVID-19 pandemic.
In two separate tests, coronavirus was detected in respiratory droplets in three of 10 (30 percent) and four of 10 (40 percent) of the samples collected without face masks, respectively, but did not detect any virus in respiratory droplets collected from participants wearing face masks.
Mr Jasarevic said: “Wearing a mask alone is not guaranteed to stop infections and should be combined with a set of protection measures.
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“Wearing medical masks when not indicated can create a false sense of security that can lead to neglecting other essential measures, such as hand hygiene practices.
“A medical mask is not required for members of the public who do not have respiratory symptoms.
Nevertheless, he added: “WHO continues to recommend the use of masks for people who show symptoms of the COVID-19 acute respiratory disease, in order to protect others from the risk of getting sick.
“The use of masks is also crucial for health workers and people who are taking care of someone in close settings (at home or in a health care facility).
“Current WHO recommendations emphasize the importance of rational and appropriate use of all Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), not only masks, which requires correct and rigorous behaviour from health care workers and adequate staff training.
“This is consistent with WHO recommendations on Infection Prevention & Control (IPC) during health care where novel coronavirus is suspected and the latest WHO scientific brief on modes of transmission of COVID-19.”
And he stressed: “The chronic global shortage of personal protective equipment is now one of the most urgent threats to our collective ability to save lives.
“We must provide the protection health care workers deserve to save our lives.”
Speaking on Wednesday, WHO director-general Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus said: “WHO continues to evaluate the potential use of masks more broadly to control COVID-19 transmission at the community level.
“As the pandemic evolves, so does the evidence, and so does our advice.
“WHO is strongly committed to protect the health of all people, based on the best science, without fear or favour.
“We develop our guidance based on the totality of evidence collected from around the world and we constantly review and update it as we learn more.”