national

MERS sparks mask rush in Asia, but are they effective?

39 Comments

The requested article has expired, and is no longer available. Any related articles, and user comments are shown below.

© 2015 AFP

©2019 GPlusMedia Inc.

39 Comments
Login to comment

So masks are good at stopping spray/splashes going in either direction, but cannot stop aerosolized particles of the virus itself which is way smaller than the "weave" of the mask. There is a slight reduction of risk because some of the viruses will get stuck on the mask. Just don't touch the mask and then touch your eyes, nose, or mouth. And wash your hands after riding the bus or train. So many times I've witnessed (guys mostly) coughing or sneezing into their hand, and then grabbing the handle.

3 ( +6 / -3 )

As a fashion item I think the burqa has a real future in Japan.

-2 ( +6 / -8 )

Too bad washing hasn't increased by the same amount

14 ( +16 / -2 )

Are they effective? Short answer - no.

A doctor friend of mine describes trying to stop a virus with one of these masks as like trying to stop water with a fishing net.

What these masks do provide is a handy way for those who wish to hide their faces from society - be that because they're waving knives at convenience store clerks or just because they're morbidly shy - a cheap and easy method to do so.

They also serve as a way for employers to not allow staff to take a day off sick, and for those who seek brownie points to get a cheap "look-at-me-boss-I've come -in sick-because-I'm such-a-hard-worker" shot in.

There is a chap in my office who wears one on his chin three days a week. Not covering his mouth and nose, but on his chin. He says it steams hs glasses up if he wears it right, but isn't quite bold enough to take the next step of not bothering with a mask at all.

These things are useless, and used by the misinformed or the inept.

10 ( +18 / -8 )

@HaraldBloodaxe: You are exactly right.

2 ( +8 / -6 )

No.

-3 ( +1 / -4 )

There has been a definite increase in my classroom with students wearing surgical masks. I politely ask them to lower them when they are in my classroom as I often feel they are just masking some other situation. However, if there is a serious problem, I allow them to wear them. The increase is obvious!

0 ( +2 / -2 )

If they're so useless, I guess everyone in operating rooms don't really need them...

-4 ( +4 / -8 )

They may not prevent but am thankful at those that wears them on the train especially when they cough alot.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

How many of you would sneeze in a mask? Masks ineffective.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Same thing happened with SARS, only it was a lot worse. In any case, no, they do not help the spread of anything, save for people who like to sneeze without covering their mouths anyway. If someone with a mask has something -- a cold, the flu, MERS, or anything else -- there is a likelihood that they will spread it BECAUSE of the mask, not only because they should not be out if they are sick (but the mask is an excuse to go out, whether their own or others'), but because they are constantly touching and rearranging them, ensuring any germs in or on get on hands anyway.

They MIGHT be effective in warding off sickness to an extent, and again if people aren't constantly fidgeting with them, but even then it's doubtful.

0 ( +4 / -4 )

The real benefit of wearing a mask is that it prevents one from easily touching their own mouth or nose with their hands. The reason one is advised to wash their hands is that more often than not, it is through hand contact with an object like a handrail for example that can pickup germs/virus and such. The mechanism of infection is that these germs/virus get into the body, usually through a mucous membrane. Which is most simply done by fingers touching the mouth or nose. You would be surprised how often people touch their mouth or nose without realizing it. Rubbing your nose, wiping your mouth, that kind of thing. Oh, and picking your nose too! Wearing a mask is simply an extention of washing your hands.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

I use a surgical mask when I have contagious cold or something in order not to give it to anyone.

Also I like wearing it when it's winter because I can keep my nose warm with it.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

The way MERS is spread... well, masks don't really help, washing hands and not touching your nose, mouth and eyes is much more effective.

And of course --this will never be picked up by the Japanese media but it'll make me feel better-- it is MERS as in purrs, not Mars, which is a planet or a candy bar.

-1 ( +4 / -5 )

They're a huge disconnect from those around you.

A new client was a bit miffed when I insisted he take his off for our first consultation. He quickly appreciated, though, what a barrier it had been to communication with his staff and customers, and hasn't worn one since.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

@Yong

"It's MERS as in purrs...."

Not in Japanese, it ain't. The sound doesn't exist.

-1 ( +3 / -4 )

@HaraldBloodaxe I am terribly sorry but your friend must go back urgently to the medical school because his lack of knowledge puts in risk every patient has has the misfortune of going in his care. Do you know for example that HIV is smaller than the latex pores? but still the condoms are an effective barrier because the same as the mask they DON'T have to stop single viruses they just have to stop the water droplets that contain them. To correct his faulty comparison a mask works the same as stopping water bottles with a net.

Mask can be very effective, but unfortunately some people think that if something is not 100% effective then it must be useless. the WHO as well as the CDC and any other institution dealing with infectious diseases recommends correct mask usage as one very effective measure against respiratory viruses, they may not be perfect, but that is completely different than saying that they have no usefulness.

It is not doubtful, it is not a superstition, its not useless. Its a science based recommendation with many studies that demonstrate that mask can be a very effective measure against viruses like MERS. But for some reason a lot of people really like to believe that every transmissible disease professional in the world is wrong and some guy on the internet that says that mask are useless is the only one that knows the truth.

-1 ( +4 / -5 )

Man, I remember a few years ago with the pig flu/H1N1 was going around and boxes of face masks were going on Yahoo Auction for up to 10000yen. From a business standpoint, it may be best to stock up now because panic will set in once the first MERS patient is discovered here.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Washing your hands and covering your cough and sneeze is far more effective than wearing a mask in public. I avoid talking to people who wear masks in public unless there is a good reason for them to wear a mask.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

Chikvi: and where do you stand on the disease prevention capabilities of wearing these totems on your chin?

Let me put this very simply for you:

If these things stop viruses being transmitted, why do we get an influenza epidemic here, every single year?

Once the announcement goes out that there's flu going round, there are masks on nearly every face on every train. Yet there is still an epidemic, no worse and no less severe than in Europe, where people prefer not to hide their faces behind magic gauze.

If these things worked, there wouldn't be just as severe an epidemic here as there is anywhere else. But there is. Every. Single. Year.

Ip so facto, they don't work.

QED.

-2 ( +3 / -5 )

@HaraldBloodaxe So you also think that washing hands is useless? because that is also seen in posters in every hospital, and probably you also think that condoms are useless to prevent STDs because well, there are still STDs around righ? Those are also measures that are used against infectious diseases and since they are not 100% effective you have to consider them also useless, right?

Masks, as well as washing hands, using condoms, etc can be excellent measures against infectious diseases, but only when used properly, you cannot seriously say that inappropriate use demonstrate that they are useless. We are after all fighting against pseudo-living things that have survived millions of years only by refining their infectious capabilities.

Give me an example of a place where everybody is using the mask properly and I will give you then the real value in preventing disease. A special field in medicine deals with the transmission of infectious diseases precisely because there are many factors involved in each single place, from population density to cultural differences, viral strains, host immune system differences, etc. Thinking that the total number of people using mask should have a easily identifiable effect on transmission rates, is at best, naive.

Better think, what do the best professionals in international institutions recommend? what the studies show? why do you value more the opinion of a doctor that thinks that still thinks that viruses go around by themselves as if they were tiny insects?

-2 ( +4 / -6 )

@Luca: Yes it does: ウル

0 ( +1 / -1 )

The 10,000 yen versions probably do work, but should still only be worn once and for a maximum of one hour. The cheap bits of gauze worn here are useless as soon as someone coughs hard or sneezes, which is what these illnesses tend to cause. Unfortunately cheap mask manufacturers have convinced the Japanese that they work so well that they should all go to work with one on. They spread their germs through the subway system and anyone who accidentally rubs their eyes after touching a surface is infected. The epidemics happen every year because people decide to infect everyone with their illnesses by going to work when they are sick. The nation keeps up its silly pretence that cheap masks protect those around them, which is clearly an impossibility or there wouldn't be epidemics every year without fail. Cheap masks are worse then useless because of the false sense of security they create. Expensive masks worn properly would be effective, but no one wears those here. Most salary men on the train have 500 yen available for lunch. They certainly don't have 10,000 yen an hour spare for effective disease containment.

-3 ( +2 / -5 )

These paper masks do not stop the spread or airborne illnesses. Why do people think they do? In fact they are lovely breeding grounds for bacteria and viruses, and then the wearer touches it and has the said micro organisms on their fingers which they then pass on. Just wash your hands and stay at home if you are coughing and sneezing.

I hate those bloody masks.

-1 ( +3 / -4 )

Chimborazo, no, dear boy, I do not think that washing hands is useless. I wish there were some way to make your typical salaryman aware that touching the tips of your fingers to a sprinkle of water for an instant after using the toilet is sufficient to stop you smearing your germs over every door handle and keyboard you touch.

But that's going nowhere, because what happens in the bog isn't a public display of hygiene. Now, regardless of how desultory this same chap's hand-washing may be, if he then puts the same bit of soggy paper over his mouth as he's been coughing into all morning, he gets brownie points for taking care of his colleagues' health. Sadly, they've all been getting a different kind of brownie point from him every time they've used a door or banister.

Hand washing is something that ought to be as reflexive as not gobbling out phlegm onto the station platform (another nil points because it's done where your colleagues can't see you, so it doesn't count). But it isn't. My local train station doesn't even have soap in the gents. Hand washing would make a difference.

Cheap masks worn all day don't . They are the enabler of the socially inept and the convenience store slasher, and the security blanket of the easily duped. They do nothing to prevent epidemics, as evidenced by the epidemics we have here every single year.

Now give it a rest and go and have a gargle.

-1 ( +4 / -5 )

@hampton

Again, proper use is key, people who splash 3 drops of water for one microsecond in their hands do not prove that washing hands is useless, people that don't use mask properly do not prove that mask are useless. And no, you don't really need N95 disposable respirators, not even in hospitals they are used, only in exceptional cases they are even recommended.

Mask of few hundred yen are still very useful to prevent spread of viruses, even if not 100% effective (after all nothing is) as long as they are used and discarded properly and together with other hygienic measures. And I don't really know where do you live, but at least in the few train lines I use in Tokyo people don't need any false sense of security, people very sick still ride the train and expose everybody around (better said, probably infect everybody that don't follow good hygienic practices including using 300 yen masks and washing their hands frequently when outside)

@Elizabeth Heath

These paper masks do not stop the spread or airborne illnesses. Why do people think they do? In fact they are lovely breeding grounds for bacteria and viruses

I am very curious to know what kind of bacteria produce yearly epidemics of respiratory disease in Japan? or how exactly a mask would help in any way to breed viruses? you do know that the only time that viruses increase in number is when infecting people right? keep a mask in a warm and humid environment and you will only succeed in slowly killing the viruses contained in it.

0 ( +4 / -4 )

Harald, the masks do have some uses:

If you skive off work and pull a sickie, wearing a mask the next day covers you here. They block the smell of salary man fart to an extent. If you have an allergy, they cover the mucous, but you have to change them every 15 minutes or so as they get wet quick. You can eat mints while wearing a mask, which disguises hangovers.
-3 ( +2 / -5 )

@ HaraldBloodaxe

Hand washing is something that ought to be as reflexive as not gobbling out phlegm onto the station platform... But it isn't. Hand washing would make a difference. Cheap masks worn all day don't .

So, having two measures against infection that people don't follow you choose to defend one because it would be effective if done properly but not the other because it would be effective only when used properly? Nice double standards. Both are the same, people don't wash hands properly, don't use mask properly. That is why we still have huge epidemics every year.

Defending one measure but attacking the other is just irrational and a little bit hypocritical. I have seen people infecting others by preparing food after a microsecond hand wash but I do understand that this is not enough to say that washing hands is useless.

Now give it a rest and go and have a gargle.

Now, if you want a hygienic measure against respiratory diseases that has no proven benefits you can freely criticize the gargling. That is really just a superstition surviving just on tradition without evidence.

2 ( +5 / -3 )

Hampton, I think you have just provided us with the conclusive evidence with which to close this debate.

Do they offer a jot of protection against MERS-like viruses? No, of course they don't.

Can the public misconception that they are to disease what a crucifix is to vampire be manipulated? Yes it can.

If you're too socially maladjusted to let people see your face, bung one on. If you're planning to rob 40,000 from 7/11, one of these might help you to get away with it. If you wake up in a pile of tins at 5am, a mask and a packet of Clorets might help you to mutate your faux pas into a few brownie points, even give you the advantage over someone who came to work competent but without a mask.

But they are as much use as making the Sign of the Cross if you want to avoid catching a virus.

-1 ( +4 / -5 )

Harald, yep, largely because the cheap bits of gauze the Japanese use get wet in minutes and the sides are opened by coughing and sneezing. These masks give idiots the perception of containment, which helps spread the epidemics and makes the masks worse than useless. It is impossible to enforce hygiene, although recently a lot more stations have soap than used to, which is one recent positive. Most Japanese men won't use the soap even when it is there, which is something that has always baffled me. In the same way you can't stop idiots in soggy masks spreading germs throughout the subway, infecting people with their illnesses and feeling good about themselves for doing it. TIJ.

-2 ( +3 / -5 )

There is a good reason these masks are called, dust masks. They do you some effect for dust particles like PM2.5 or even pollen, but they do nothing for viruses. In fact, the warm, moist well-ventilated area of the mask creates the perfect environment for viruses to live. According to WHO, for masks to be effective at stopping viruses they must be 12 ply surgical masks and changed every 20 minutes.

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

Chikv - I agree that the correct type of mask, correctly fitted, used for a limited time and then disposed of in the correct manner is a useful tool in controlling the spread of disease.

I think that HaroldBloodaxe's point is that none of the above apply for the way the vast majority of people use masks in Japan. They wear the wrong type, worn the wrong way (e.g. as a chin-strap), for too long, and then don't take care when removing or disposing of the mask.

In short, the way that almost all people in Japan use masks is largely useless. Its like expecting a condom worn on your hand to help prevent STDs. It might, by accident, be helpful, but in the vast majority of cases it won't be.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

When fear is on the rise, so are the profits.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

@ Disillusioned

in fact, the warm, moist well-ventilated area of the mask creates the perfect environment for viruses to live.

Depends on the virus, for example for influenza a warm and moist environment deactivate the virus much more quickly that cold dry air, that is the opposite of the perfect environment. Many people have their viruses and bacteria completely mixed up.

According to WHO, for masks to be effective at stopping viruses they must be 12 ply surgical masks and changed every 20 minutes.

That is a recommendation for health personnel that is constantly exposed to symptomatic patients and is in close contact with them, any mask capable of stopping droplets is effective at stopping viruses in a everyday community situation (for example while riding the train) of course when used properly.

@Frungy

I think that HaroldBloodaxe's point is that none of the above apply for the way the vast majority of people use masks in Japan.

And my point is that the same should be said for every other hygienic measure, focusing on masks as if people were doing surgical washes 5 times a day is just nonsense. All measures are quite effective when used properly, and all are useless when done poorly. Are masks a waste even when used properly? of course not, that honor goes to gargling, germanium trinkets, "virus filters" that you hang around your neck, etc.

Seeing an effective measure done wrong one should be promoting a correct use instead of asking people just to stop using it.

0 ( +4 / -4 )

Good luck telling the korean masses that masks are useful. This is the country that brought us the myth that we'll die if we sleep in a closed room with the electric fan on.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

@ Chijv - That is a recommendation for health personnel that is constantly exposed to symptomatic patients and is in close contact with them, any mask capable of stopping droplets is effective at stopping viruses in a everyday community situation (for example while riding the train) of course when used properly.

What a load of rot! Just for your information, most cold and flu viruses are spread by contact, not by airborne particles and, the virus usually enters the body through the eyes after touching a contaminated surface and then your eyes. Human saliva is naturally anti-bacterial. That recommendation by WHO was released during the SARS epidemic in the mid-2000's and was meant for all people.

-3 ( +1 / -4 )

hamptonJun. 22, 2015 - 12:13AM JST

because the cheap bits of gauze the Japanese use get wet in minutes and the sides are opened by coughing and sneezing. These masks give idiots the perception of containment, which helps spread the epidemics and makes the masks worse than useless.

When the mask get wet, so much water was prevented from going out. Virus travels only in spay of water. Masks can reduce the outflow. Who is more "idiotic", mask users or those who cover mouth with a hand when they sneeze? I always wonder how anyone can cover his mouth with his hand when touching his mouth and nose with his hands is not recommended.

although recently a lot more stations have soap than used to, which is one recent positive. Most Japanese men won't use the soap even when it is there, which is something that has always baffled me.

I do not remember the last time I saw a lavatory without soap in Japan.

http://bitesizebio.com/3933/does-hand-sanitizer-and-liquid-hand-soap-remove-viruses/

Results of hand cleaners: The results reported were for the RNase treated samples only, so this data reflects the effects of the cleaners on live infectious virus. Compared to the baseline control, the liquid hand soap had the greatest reduction in NV cDNA (0.67 Log 10), followed by the reduction from just a simple water rinse (0.58 Log 10). The alcohol based sanitizer reduced the virus the least, only 0.27 Log 10.

Hand soap, 0.67 Log 10=21% or 79% reduction

Just water, 0.58 Log 10=26% or 74% reduction

Not much difference.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

@Disillusioned

What a load of rot! Just for your information, most cold and flu viruses are spread by contact, not by airborne particles and, the virus usually enters the body through the eyes after touching a contaminated surface and then your eyes.

And how do you imagine the virus get into the contaminated surface? magically? in the sweat? secreted by the skin actively? just think for a second.

The droplets of water that contain the viruses go out of the mouth and nose of sick people and directly (or via hand) arrive to surfaces to contaminate them. A sick person using correctly a mask interrupts this process. Once the viruses are in the air (not exactly airborne but close enough when you are talking about seconds after a sneeze or cough) the correct use of a mask reduce importantly the amount of droplets that come in contact with the nose and mouth of not infected people that are close, reducing the probability of infection. Touching contaminated surfaces (including the outside of the mask) is when the correct washing is important, and as mentioned before it is not so much about what do you wash your hands with, but how carefully you do it.

Why do you think that in hospitals and research institutes working with respiratory viruses personnel HAVE to use masks? just because fashion? and no, they are not N95 respirators, but your 3 ply 200-300 yen masks because they are good enough when used correctly.

Human saliva is naturally anti-bacterial. And what bacteria is the one we are talking about? the "bacteria" that causes the seasonal influenza or the "bacteria" that causes SARS? really, do you think that antibacterial is equal with antiviral?

That recommendation by WHO was released during the SARS epidemic in the mid-2000's and was meant for all people.

Source? because I cannot find that recommendation anywhere except for healthcare workers.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Effective at covering up some of the dental disasters folks here have. Or making a social statement about how caring one is. for germs, not so sure.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Login to leave a comment

Facebook users

Use your Facebook account to login or register with JapanToday. By doing so, you will also receive an email inviting you to receive our news alerts.

Facebook Connect

Login with your JapanToday account

User registration

Articles, Offers & Useful Resources

A mix of what's trending on our other sites