Wearing face masks at home might help to stop COVID-19 spreading among family members, study shows

  • The Chinese study asked 124 families in Beijing about their health and hygiene 
  • Every family involved in the study had at least one confirmed coronavirus case
  • They say public COVID-19 prevention measures could also be used in the home 
  • This includes washing hands, social distancing, wearing a mask and cleaning 
  • Here’s how to help people impacted by Covid-19

Putting on a face mask when you’re at home could help slow the spread of the deadly coronavirus between members of the same family, a study found.

Researchers from the Beijing Centre for Disease Prevention and Control say this only works to slow the infection rate in family members before symptoms develop.

The study of 124 Chinese families in Beijing found wearing a mask indoors was 79 per cent effective at stopping the spread when compared to not wearing a mask.

This only applies before symptoms emerged in the first person in the household infected by COVID-19 – after symptoms appear a mask doesn’t make a difference.

Putting on a face mask when you’re at home could help slow the spread of the deadly coronavirus between members of the same family, a study found. Stock Image

Household transmission is a major driver in the spread of the virus, researchers say and they believe face masks worn indoors can slow this spread.

They say that precautionary guidelines such as wearing a mask, practicing 6ft social distancing and deep cleaning could be introduced for people at home. 

The World Health Organization (WHO) and Public Health England haven’t endorsed the wearing of face masks indoors or outdoors, on the grounds that there’s little good quality evidence to warrant recommending this. 

However, the government has recommended that the public consider wearing face coverings in enclosed public spaces and evidence has shown they can slow the spread of droplets of breath from sneezes, coughs and even talking.

So far this only applies to shops, trains and buses, but this new research could see that extended to people in their own home if a family member has the virus.

The researchers asked 335 people from 124 families – with at least one laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 case between late February and late March 2020 – about their household hygiene and behaviours during the pandemic.

The researchers analysed what factors might increase or decrease the risk of catching the virus within the incubation period.

That period covers the 14 days from the start of a person’s symptoms.

They found that during this time secondary transmission – spread from the first infected person to other family members – occurred in 41 out of the 124 families.

A total of 77 adults and children were infected in this way, giving an ‘attack rate’ of 23 per cent, the researchers say.

About a third of the children in the study caught the virus compared with more than two-thirds of the adults – adding to evidence children are less likely to catch it.

The researchers asked 335 people from 124 families – with at least one laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 case between late February and late March 2020 – about their household hygiene and behaviours during the pandemic. Stock Image

The study also found that 12 of the children had mild symptoms and one had none.

Some 83 per cent of the adults had mild symptoms and around one in 10 had severe symptoms. Only one person in the study group became critically ill.

Daily use of disinfectants, window opening and keeping at least one metre apart were associated with a lower risk of passing on the virus.

Those findings even applied in more crowded households, the researchers found.

Frequent contact in the household increased the risk of transmission 18 times and diarrhoea in the first patient increased the risk by four times. 

‘Results demonstrate the importance of pre-symptomatic infectiousness of Covid-19 patients and shows that wearing masks after illness onset does not protect.’

A face mask worn before symptoms started was 79 per cent effective, and disinfection 77 per cent effective, at stopping the virus from being passed on.

Study authors say the findings back universal face mask use, not just in public spaces but also while at home – especially if someone in the family has COVID-19.  

The research has been published in the journal BMJ Global Health.

DO FACE MASKS MAKE A DIFFERENCE AND WHAT SHOULD YOU WEAR IF YOU CAN’T GET ONE?

Americans are increasingly being spotted wearing face masks in public amid the coronavirus pandemic, as are people are around the globe.

Soon, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) may advise all Americans to cover their faces when they leave the house, the Washington Post reported.  

The agency is weighing that recommendation after initially telling Americans that they didn’t need to wear masks and that anything other than a high-grade N95 medical mask would do little to prevent infection any way. 

FACE MASKS DO HELP PREVENT INFECTION – BUT THEY’RE NOT ALL CREATED EQUAL 

Research on how well various types of masks and face coverings varies but, recently, and in light of the pandemic of COVID-19, experts are increasingly leaning toward the notion that something is better than nothing. 

A University of Oxford study published on March 30 concluded that surgical masks are just as effective at preventing respiratory infections as N95 masks for doctors, nurses and other health care workers. 

It’s too early for their to be reliable data on how well they prevent infection with COVID-19, but the study found the thinner, cheaper masks do work in flu outbreaks. 

The difference between surgical or face masks and N95 masks lies in the size of particles that can – and more importantly, can’t – get though the materials. 

N95 respirators are made of thick, tightly woven and molded material that fits tightly over the face and can stop 95 percent of all airborne particles, while surgical masks are thinner, fit more loosely, and more porous. 

This makes surgical masks much more comfortable to breathe and work in, but less effective at stopping small particles from entering your mouth and nose. 

Droplets of saliva and mucous from coughs and sneezes are very small, and viral particles themselves are particularly tiny – in fact, they’re about 20-times smaller than bacteria. 

For this reason, a JAMA study published this month still contended that people without symptoms should not wear surgical masks, because there is not proof the gear will protect them from infection – although they may keep people who are coughing and sneezing from infecting others. 

But the Oxford analysis of past studies – which has not yet been peer reviewed – found that surgical masks were worth wearing and didn’t provide statistically less protection than N95 for health care workers around flu patients. 

However, any face mask is only as good as other health and hygiene practices. Experts universally agree that there’s simply no replacement for thorough, frequent hand-washing for preventing disease transmission. 

Some think the masks may also help to ‘train’ people not to touch their faces, while others argue that the unfamiliar garment will just make people do it more, actually raising infection risks.  

If the CDC does instruct Americans to wear masks, it could create a second issue: Hospitals already face shortages of masks and other PPE.

WHAT TO USE TO COVER YOUR FACE IF YOU DON’T HAVE A MASK 

So the agency may recommend regular citizens use alternatives like cloth masks or bandanas. 

‘Homemade masks theoretically could offer some protection if the materials and fit were optimized, but this is uncertain,’ Dr Jeffrey Duchin, a Seattle health official told the Washington Post. 

A 2013 study found that next to a surgical mask, a vacuum cleaner bag provided the best material for a homemade mask. 

After a vacuum bag, kitchen towels were fairly protective, but uncomfortable. Masks made of T-shirts were very tolerable, but only worked a third as well as surgical mask. The Cambridge University researchers concluded that homemade masks should only be used ‘as a last resort.’ 

But as the pandemic has spread to more than 164,000 people worldwide, it might be time to consider last resort options.  

 

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