Face masks not suitable for everyone, spare them for patients, medical staff: doctors

Srinagar: Thousands of people have started wearing face masks to protect themselves from infection by the coronavirus, which has led to shortage of face masks in the market as well as their rising prices. However, doctors say that masks are not recommended for everyone and should be spared for those actually in need of them.
“Face masks are for people showing symptoms of coronavirus and for their caregivers,” said Dr Parvaiz Koul, professor and head of department, Internal and Pulmonary Medicine, at Sher-i-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences (SKIMS), Soura.
He said that even the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Center for Disease Control (CDC) does not recommend people who are well to wear a facemask to protect themselves from respiratory diseases, including COVID-19.
“Putting on a face mask without proper fitting and training can actually increase the risk among those who have no symptoms of the virus,” Dr Koul said.
If a person is coughing and showing symptoms of possible coronavirus illness, that’s when wearing a mask could be helpful for protecting those around the person, Dr Koul said.
“Covering your nose and mouth with the help of masks shouldn’t be seen as the only way that can protect you from infection. There are several other means that can help people stay uninfected,” said Dr Salim Khan, head of department, Social and Preventive Medicine, at Government Medical College (GMC) Srinagar.
“One must wash hands frequently and practice social distancing,” he said.
Khan said that people must maintain 5 feet distance from infected persons to avoid getting exposed to respiratory droplets from them.
“The WHO has given specific guidelines for everyone to follow. Hand washing and social distancing are basic ones. They should be practiced by people on a daily basis to reduce the spread of respiratory viruses,” he said.
Khan also cautioned about the continuous use of masks, saying that face masks have a very specific lifespan.
“Some masks have longer lifespans or have replaceable filters, but the most common face masks in the market are disposable and single-use,” he said.
“We must change the mask every few hours to make sure it doesn’t turn contagious,” Khan said.
Dr Farooq A Jan, the Medical Superintendent of SKIMS Soura, pointed out another problem with injudicious use of face masks.
“Every hospital gets a limited supply of masks. Companies can increase their production but they can’t meet huge demands because everyone is wearing them. If this goes on unabated, there will be a shortage of this protective equipment at medical institutions,” Dr Jan cautioned.

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