Donning a face mask is the best bet against respiratory infections like influenza and the common cold, according to a new study.
In the first ever clinical trial of its kind, University of New South Wales (UNSW) researchers found adult mask wearers at home were four times more likely than non-wearers to be protected against respiratory viruses, including the common cold.
The findings have global implications, with a vital bearing on efforts to combat flu pandemics and other emerging respiratory diseases such as SARS.
"In the event of a severe pandemic, demand for protection could become a law and order issue," said co-author of the paper, Raina MacIntyre, professor and head of UNSW School of Public Health and Community Medicine.
"In a crisis, vaccine development is likely to be delayed and drugs may be in short supply or not available at all," she said.
"Limited supplies will be directed first to frontline health workers, so masks are an important means of protection for the community, who otherwise may be last in line for vaccines and drugs."
"There is no effective treatment for the 90 or so common cold viruses that make families sick each winter, but masks could provide simple and effective protection," MacIntyre said, according to an UNSW release.
These findings were published in Emerging Infectious Diseases.