The use of masks by the general public during a pandemic has become a bit of a hot potato of late. There are concerns over a finite supply, different types of masks that afford different levels of protection, and the ability of the user to wear them properly. Furthermore, the amount of protection they will afford is subject to debate.
Today the CDC issued an interim recommendation, where they state that the general public might, under some circumstances, consider using masks during a pandemic.
It isn't a rousing endorsement, but it is helpful, given the lack of guidance by health authorities to date.
This from the Canadian Press.
Canadian PressPublished: Thursday, May 03, 2007
TORONTO (CP) - Should people consider wearing medical masks to reduce their risk of infection during a flu pandemic? The U.S. Centres for Disease Control says the answer to that question is a very qualified maybe.
The Atlanta-based health agency issued interim recommendations on the use of medical masks and respirators by the public on Thursday, saying people should try first to lower their risk of being infected by avoiding crowded conditions whenever possible.
People who have to go into crowded settings "should consider" using surgical masks and should limit their time in these settings, the guidelines say.
If people need to be in contact with a person sick with influenza, they should consider using a respirator - the technical term for the moulded masks frequently used in industrial workplaces and sometimes in hospitals.
The lead spokesperson for the policy statement said this doesn't mean the CDC is urging people to go out and stockpile surgical masks and N-95 respirators.
"The main thing to do is avoid exposure altogether and stay home and stay away from crowds," said Dr. Michael Bell, associate director for infection control in the CDC's division of healthcare quality promotion.
"And if you decide that you in addition want to have masks and respirators, I think this guidance helps you understand when you might want to use them. I think it's a nice step in avoiding the need for huge supplies if you realize you only need them in discrete circumstances."