Should you mask up to fight the flu?

Coughing, sneezing, feeling generally terrible – it seems everyone has flu symptoms or knows someone who does. Medical professionals says getting the flu shot is the best way to stay healthy.  There is an additional option for those who fear the flu — wearing a surgical mask.

Paris Lovett, the Medical Director for the Emergency Department at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, says wearing a mask can be an effective way to protect others. 

“The image of someone coughing and droplets spraying out for three to six feet is the mental image to have with this and that’s what the masks stop,” said Lovett.  “Primarily we look at flu being spread by droplets and the masks are quite effective at preventing droplet spread — they’re not completely effective.”

Lovett says it’s wise to wear a mask if you’re heading into close quarters such as a plane or elevator and you think you have the flu, “then it would be considerate and good practice to wear a mask.”

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

Dr. David Pegues, the Medical Director of Healthcare Epidemiology, Infection Prevention and Control at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, says masks can act kind of like a net — catching all that stuff one coughs or sneezes out.  But he says the function is not unique to masks; wearing a mask is similar to coughing into your sleeve. 

“Their role and effectiveness in limiting the spread of flu in the community hasn’t really been well studied,” said Pegues.  “I tend to think of them lower down on the priority or the hierarchy of what people should do to prevent themselves from getting the flu, or if they’re ill with the flu to limit the risk of spread to family members and others.” 

Pegues stresses a mask is not a substitute for getting the flu shot.  

WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal