Why Is It Common To See People Wearing Surgical Masks In Asian Countries?
In parts of China, Korea and Japan it is very common to see people wearing surgical masks out in public, or in the workplace. Are they simply hypochondriacs, or do they have good reason to wear masks? A better question might be, do the masks actually work as intended?
Why Do They Wear The Masks?
Contrary to widespread belief, these masks aren’t worn to protect the wearer – they’re worn to protect others. When used during surgery, they prevent bacteria, viruses and germs from the staff’s mouth & nose from entering a patient’s (open or exposed) body.
In many Asian countries, even parts that aren’t heavily populated, it’s common for people to wear the masks if they think they’re getting sick, are sick, or even have a slight cold. They do this as a courtesy to prevent spreading their own infection to others.
The reason the flu and colds are so transmissible is because when you cough, sneeze, or blow your nose, there are millions of little viruses on the droplets in the fine mist you’ve just expelled into the air. Mist which can be inhaled by people around you – if you’ve just blown your nose and opened a door, touched a table, elevator button, or payphone – someone else can touch those objects and then rub their eyes – it’s quick and efficient transmission.
Do They Completely Stop Viruses?
Unfortunately, no. To completely block or contain viruses, an N95/N99/N100 rated mask is required to reliably catch particles that are as small as viruses and bacteria.
Luckily, most of the time when viruses or bacteria are aerosolized through coughing or sneezing, they are riding on water droplets much larger than the size of an individual virus or bacteria. Regular surgical masks are generally sufficient for blocking these.