Before the COVID-19 pandemic, it was relatively uncommon to see somebody wearing a face mask in public. They were mainly reserved for those who were immunocompromised, such as cancer patients or the elderly. Now that the vaccine is being widely distributed within the United States and cases are going down, many states have dropped their mask mandates. Even though many people are no longer required to wear a mask, some choose to continue to do so. In several other countries, including much of East Asia, it is common to wear a face mask throughout the year. So, is it a wise decision to continue to wear face masks after the pandemic, or is it time to throw them out?
Wearing Masks During Flu Season
Dr. Anthony Fauci has said that now that we have become accustomed to wearing masks, it is likely that people will continue to wear them in the future to reduce the spread of viral illnesses. It is considered sensible to wear a mask when sick in much of the world. That said, before the pandemic it just wasn’t common practice in the United States. Flu season is dreaded in the United States, especially by the elderly and the immunocompromised, so the prospect of having an additional measure of defense is useful to many. While it may seem like common sense, the CDC currently has a different opinion on the topic.
Are Masks Effective Against The Flu?
Currently, the CDC does not recommend wearing a face mask in public to protect yourself from the flu. At this point, there is research supporting the use of face masks to protect yourself against COVID-19; however, very little research has been done regarding the flu and face masks. The CDC does recommend that medical professionals who are constantly being exposed to influenza wear masks. This seems like a hypocritical statement, but when delved into, it is far more apparent.
Medical professionals are typically using N95 masks, which are specially made to filter not only the air that you’re breathing out but the air that you’re breathing in. Surgical masks and cloth masks are not made to filter the air you’re breathing in, so unless you think you’re sick, it won’t do you much good to wear one. We must also remember that the flu is not a deadly disease for the average healthy person, and it is not nearly as contagious as COVID-19. The best thing that you can do to protect yourself from the flu is to get the new flu vaccine every year and stay home if you are sick.
A big reason that everyone was encouraged to wear masks in the COVID-19 pandemic was that COVID-19 could be present in asymptomatic individuals. This is also possible with the flu, with about 1 in 3 cases being asymptomatic, but the fact remains that the flu is not as contagious as COVID-19. If you are not actively sneezing and coughing and you are practicing proper handwashing, it is unlikely that you will be spreading the flu to the people around you.
The Final Verdict
Do we need to wear masks during flu season? The final answer provided by the CDC is no, we do not need to continue wearing them. However, if wearing a mask makes you more comfortable, or you are concerned that you may be infected, there is nothing wrong with wearing one. While the research isn’t there yet, it is possible that wearing masks may also help slow the spread of influenza.