What is it about?

COVID-19 spreads when a healthy person breathes in virus-laden droplets released into the air when an infected person sneezes or coughs. The two major entry points of these droplets in the body are the mouth and the nose. As such, doctors around the world advise covering the face with a mask. In addition, wearing a mask reduces the chances of someone breathing the infected droplets out. But, not all masks provide the same level of protection against viruses. Their filtration capacity depends on the arrangement of fibers in them. A mask with high filtration efficiency (FE) may provide better protection but make it hard to breathe. Choosing the right mask is therefore essential. Surgical masks (SM) are commonly used face protection. In this study, scientists have tried to understand how a three-layered SM fares in terms of protecting against the coronavirus. They used computer models to analyze changes in the airflow when inhaling through an SM and determined the viral load on it. They found that wearing a mask slows down airflow near the mouth and increases the area of inhalation. This may make it more likely to breathe in infected particles. However, wearing a mask does prevent deposition of particles in the lungs. A three-layered SM with 65% FE decreases the chance of deposition of 1-10 micrometer particles by three folds.

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Why is it important?

Scientists and doctors suggest masks are our first line of defense against the coronavirus. However, not all masks may be equally effective in protecting us from this deadly pathogen. This study shows that irrespective of their FE, all masks prevent the deposition of virus-laden particles in the lungs. Wearing a mask with an FE of at least 65% can protect us from viral deposition in the nose and lungs. KEY TAKEAWAY: Wearing the right mask decreases the chances of COVID-19 infection quite a lot. Masks with 65% FE are the best to keep the nose and lungs protected from the virus.

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This page is a summary of: Effects of mask-wearing on the inhalability and deposition of airborne SARS-CoV-2 aerosols in human upper airway, Physics of Fluids, December 2020, American Institute of Physics, DOI: 10.1063/5.0034580.
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