The swine flu scare that has gripped the city over the past few days has led to brisk sales of cheap Chinese anti-pollution masks. However. doctors say the masks offer little protection.
“I have sold 300 masks in 20 days. On Monday I brought a fresh consignment from Burrabazar. The masks hit the market last year. This year their demand is higher,” said Shymal Dutta, a Gariahat hawker.
Coming in a variety of six to seven colors including pink, light blue, purple, white and black, they cost between Rs. 15 and Rs. 20.
“Mostly school children, bikers, senior citizens and patients with bronchial and respiratory problems are buying them. With quite a few English medium schools located in Gariahat and Ballygunge, the masks are selling out fast,” said Gariahat hawker A Jha.
On Wednesday, six fresh cases of swine flu were reported from various hospitals in the city. The number of infected patients in Kolkata has shot up to 42. Two have already died.
“The flu is very infectious and spreads when an infected person sneezes and coughs in close proximity to another person. School children are prone to the virus. You never know who is infected. I don’t want my daughter to get infected and have bought her a mask,” said M Singh, whose daughter Shreya, is a student of Class 2 in an English medium school near Gariahat.
However, according to doctors, special masks are required to stop the spread of virus.
“The masks which can prevent the spread of swine flu are known as an N95 mask. We have procured them for medical staff, who are treating infected patients in hospitals” said director of health services Dr B R Satpathi.
But it is not just the scare of swine flu, which has helped the sale of the masks. Air pollution worsens during winter. The level of particulate matter less than 10 microns or PM10 shoots up during winter, as they cannot disperse because of low wind velocity and less rainfall. They can get into the lungs and trigger respiratory problems.
“Those living along the EM Bypass are having a difficult time because of several projects like the Bus Rapid Transit System, Garia-Airport Metro and flyovers. You cannot walk or drive with your nose and mouth uncovered,” said regular commuter Sumana Adhikary.
Doctors say there is a sudden rise in respiratory ailment like dust allergy, dry cough, asthma and other chronic pulmonary diseases mainly because of rising particulate matter in the air.
“But I am not sure whether such masks can prevent particulate matter from entering your lungs. A R 15 mask cannot keep away the virus,” said pulmonologist Dr PS Bhattacharya.