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Will a Face Mask Prevent The Flu And COVID-10? What MDs Say

  • Face masks might help protect against the flu in addition to novel coronavirus.
  • The CDC doesn’t officially recommend face masks for flu prevention, but does point to other “everyday preventative measures.”
  • Doctors reiterate that masks can prevent respiratory droplets from spreading, including for both the flu and COVID-19.

    Sure, people wear face masks these days mostly to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. But now experts say there might be an added benefit of wearing your mask when out in public: It could lower your odds of contracting the flu.

    Like COVID-19, the flu is a virus that’s mainly spread through infected respiratory droplets. “Wearing a mask will likely decrease transmission of the flu as well,” says Richard Watkins, MD, an infectious-disease physician in Akron, Ohio, and a professor of internal medicine at Northeast Ohio Medical University.

    Rajeev Fernando, MD, an infectious-disease expert in Southampton, N.Y., expects that the 2020-21 flu season will actually be milder than usual because of coronavirus-prevention methods, including widespread mask wearing. “It’s the same concept as preventing the spread of COVID-19,” he says. “Masks can help prevent respiratory droplets from spreading.”

    That being said, you should still plan on getting a flu shot and practicing other flu prevention methods this year. Here’s what you need to know about protecting yourself from the flu—via face masks and other measures—this year.

    A mask should be just one part of your flu prevention plan this year.

    FWIW: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does not currently list wearing a face mask in its main recommendations for preventing the spread of the flu. Instead, the CDC recommends avoiding close contact with people who are sick, covering your coughs and sneezes, washing your hands well with soap and water, avoiding touching your eyes, nose, and mouth, and cleaning and disinfecting objects that could be contaminated with the viruses that cause the flu.

    However, the CDC does point people to “everyday preventative measures” for stopping the spread of COVID-19 as part of its tips for preventing the spread of the flu. And among those measures is advice to wear a face mask whenever you go out.

    Medical staff wear surgical masks when treating flu patients, Fernando says, and a cloth face mask can likely offer at least some level of protection. And if someone who has the flu wears a mask and the people around them also wear a mask, the odds of the infected person making others sick drops dramatically, Fernando says.

    Yes, you still need to get your flu shot.

    The CDC specifically says that getting vaccinated against the flu this season “is more important than ever” and lists these as important reasons to get your shot:

    • It can reduce your risk of catching the flu, and of being hospitalized or dying from the flu if you do happen to contract it.
    • Getting a flu vaccine can save healthcare resources for the care of people who have COVID-19.

      “At this point, I would recommend as many preventive

      Quality Health Care With NPs and M.D.s

      Wright & Associates nurse practitioner Caitlyn Hutter conducts a telehealth appointment on Sept. 3.


      Kayana Szymczak for The Wall Street Journal

      There is no room for misinformation in any debate about nurse practitioner and physician comparability. Rebekah Bernard argues (Letters, Sept. 26) that “studies that show equivalence in care between nurse practitioners and physicians are flawed” and that “not a single large-scale study has compared the care provided by nurse practitioners practicing independently without physician supervision.” Dr. Bernard is wrong on both counts.

      In 2000 the Journal of the American Medical Association published an article written by the chairman of the Department of Medicine at Columbia University, the chair of the Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center physician-contracting group, several other eminent physicians, and me. The article was a report of a randomized clinical trial (which is the gold standard for medical-research evaluation) of more than 1,300 patient subjects over two years that showed that nurse practitioners (NPs) could provide the same care and achieve the same health outcomes for patients as care delivered by physicians. Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center authorized full admitting and discharge privileges for the NPs, and New York state gave them full prescriptive privileges, so the parameters of the comparison were valid. Numerous strong research studies from other practices have since been published in premier journals confirming these results.

      Mary O’Neil Mundinger, R.N., Dr.PH

      Dean Emerita

      Columbia University School of Nursing

      New York

      I agree that experience and education matter. The average NP has been a nurse for 10 years before becoming a NP and has more than 20,000 hours of direct patient care, reviewing physician orders, dispensing medications and managing patient care before they even apply for NP school (which is another three years and 1,500 hours).

      As a nurse, I personally have trained, advised and intervened in helping dozens of interns, residents, fellows and attending physicians make sure that they provided the best care to patients. At the end of the day, it isn’t the ego of the health-care provider that matters—it’s the patient who matters. Health care should be a team process, not a hierarchical system that puts one discipline over all others.

      Whether we like it or not, demand for access, the cost of health care and insurance are changing the face of health care. NPs aren’t better or worse than physicians. They came to their primary-care roles through different paths, and patients still get competent, high-quality care. So, let’s start an honest conversation about how to meet the needs of the patient and stop this demeaning “I am better than you” argument that only inhibits access to care for all.

      Ann Schlimm, CRNP

      Erie, Pa.

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