Asian person wearing scrubs, a face mask, and a hair net in front of city buildings and surrounded by green cells with text "Are Facemasks Effective?"

Facemasks or surgical masks might help protect against cold and flu season – or in times of an outbreak, like the coronavirus. But how much protection do the masks provide?

Surgical masks are loose-fitting and disposable masks approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for use as medical devices. Doctors, dentists, and nurses often wear them while treating patients. These masks prevent drops of body fluids that may contain viruses from escaping via the nose and mouth. The masks also protect against splashes or sprays from others, such as sneezes and coughs. The downside is that these masks don’t prevent the inhalation of small, airborne contaminants.

With everyone on edge about the current outbreak of 2019 coronavirus (2019-nCoV), how effective are the facemasks? Wearing a facemask might help prevent influenza as the virus spreads droplets in the air when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks. A mask could protect a person from inhaling these droplets if it were worn consistently and fully covering the mouth and nose.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says the facemasks are for people who are sick with a virus or believed to be infected, and for those who live with or care for them. There is no recommendation for the general public to start wearing facemasks for coronavirus. CDC advises washing hands frequently to prevent the spread of illness such as the flu.

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