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From Women’s Health
Face masks might help protect against the flu in addition to novel coronavirus.
The CDC doesn’t officially recommend face masks for flu prevention, but does point to other “everyday preventative measures.”
Doctors reiterate that masks can prevent respiratory droplets from spreading, including for both the flu and COVID-19.
Sure, people wear face masks these days mostly to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. But now experts say there might be an added benefit of wearing your mask when out in public: It could lower your odds of contracting the flu.
Like COVID-19, the flu is a virus that’s mainly spread through infected respiratory droplets. “Wearing a mask will likely decrease transmission of the flu as well,” says Richard Watkins, MD, an infectious-disease physician in Akron, Ohio, and a professor of internal medicine at Northeast Ohio Medical University.
Rajeev Fernando, MD, an infectious-disease expert in Southampton, N.Y., expects that the 2020-21 flu season will actually be milder than usual because of coronavirus-prevention methods, including widespread mask wearing. “It’s the same concept as preventing the spread of COVID-19,” he says. “Masks can help prevent respiratory droplets from spreading.”
That being said, you should still plan on getting a flu shot and practicing other flu prevention methods this year. Here’s what you need to know about protecting yourself from the flu—via face masks and other measures—this year.
A mask should be just one part of your flu prevention plan this year.
FWIW: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does not currently list wearing a face mask in its main recommendations for preventing the spread of the flu. Instead, the CDC recommends avoiding close contact with people who are sick, covering your coughs and sneezes, washing your hands well with soap and water, avoiding touching your eyes, nose, and mouth, and cleaning and disinfecting objects that could be contaminated with the viruses that cause the flu.
However, the CDC does point people to “everyday preventative measures” for stopping the spread of COVID-19 as part of its tips for preventing the spread of the flu. And among those measures is advice to wear a face mask whenever you go out.
Medical staff wear surgical masks when treating flu patients, Fernando says, and a cloth face mask can likely offer at least some level of protection. And if someone who has the flu wears a mask and the people around them also wear a mask, the odds of the infected person making others sick drops dramatically, Fernando says.
Yes, you still need to get your flu shot.
The CDC specifically says that getting vaccinated against the flu this season “is more important than ever” and lists these as important reasons to get your shot:
It can reduce your risk of catching the flu, and of being hospitalized or dying from the flu if you do happen to contract it.
Getting a flu vaccine can save healthcare resources for the care of people who have COVID-19.
“At this point, I would recommend as many preventive measures that we know are successful,” Fernando says. “There’s really no reason not to get your flu shot. We will have a weaker flu season if everyone does that.”
And, if you continue to practice known ways of preventing the spread of COVID-19, like wearing your mask, avoiding crowds as much as possible, social distancing, and washing your hands regularly, your odds of contracting the flu—and COVID-19—should plummet, Watkins says.
Sounds like a win-win.
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