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Face masks may reduce coronavirus infection severity


Three people wearing masks in lift

Wearing a mask could help you as well as protecting the community, research finds.

New medical research suggests that face masks can reduce the severity of coronavirus infections.

Much advice on the importance of wearing face masks has focused on how they can help prevent the spread of coronavirus to others. That's especially important for people who have the virus but haven't experienced or displayed any symptoms.

A new research review paper scheduled to be published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine and initially reported by The New York Times suggests that as well as reducing the spread of the virus, face masks can have an impact on how severe a COVID-19 infection is.

"Universal masking reduces the 'inoculum' or dose of the virus for the mask-wearer, leading to more mild and asymptomatic infection manifestations," the paper notes. The basic idea is that because masks can block much virus material even if, for instance, an infected person sneezed near you, the infection would be less severe. This theory has been explored during other epidemics, but hasn't previously been examined in the context of COVID-19, the paper says.

Further laboratory research would be needed to determine the precise extent of any such reduction, but the authors argue the approach "shows the benefits of mask-wearing for the individual (as well as others) as a pillar of COVID-19 pandemic control".

Demand for face masks in Australia continues to grow, with face coverings required in public across Victoria from next week. An Australian study found that 3-layer masks are the most effective, but noted that any form of face covering provides some protection.

Want more help with masks? Check out our overview of face masks, how to choose the best one, what doctors recommend when using them, the rules that apply in Australia and our regularly-updated guide on where to buy masks.

Image: Getty Images

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