Face masks may cut influenza risk in home

By Tom Nordlie • Published: May 8th, 2009
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

If you’re a parent, you know the routine.

First, your child gets sick, then you get sick.

Next, the bug gets your spouse, then your other kids, until it’s bounced around the entire family.

So how can you stop this game of pathogen ping-pong?

An article published in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases suggests a simple solution… face masks.

Researchers in Australia tested this idea in almost one-hundred-fifty homes where a child fifteen or younger was sick with an influenza-type illness.

Adults in the household were assigned to one of three groups. Some wore standard surgical masks, others wore respirator masks and a control group took no special precautions.

The first two groups were asked to wear the masks whenever they were in the same room as the sick child.

This went on for one week.

The results showed that adults who consistently wore either kind of mask cut their risk of getting sick by sixty to eighty percent.

The problem was, only about one-fifth of the adults with masks wore them as directed.

Those who didn’t comply gave various reasons… the mask was uncomfortable, they forgot or their child didn’t like the mask.

The researchers stressed that their findings wouldn’t necessarily apply in other settings such as schools, workplaces or health-care facilities.

Still, this option may be worth a try the next time your little one brings home a bug.

A few days of discomfort is a small price to pay for opting out of the pathogen ping-pong game.