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Is a Face Mask Good For Catching a Rotavirus?

A medical face mask, also called a surgical face mask, is designed to be worn by medical staff during surgical care procedures. Surgical masks are designed to prevent infections from reaching surgical staff and treating patients by capturing airborne pathogens and fluid droplets from the nose and mouth of the wearer. Surgeons use them when performing certain types of surgery, such as open-heart surgery, and when there is a good amount of blood and fluid in the operating room. They are also used during certain types of facial cosmetic surgery, for example, nose surgery, to prevent the nose from bleeding.

During the World Health Organization (WHO) conference in WHO headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, in 2021, an interesting discussion took place concerning the use of a surgical or face mask. Some participants noted that certain groups of people, such as children, the elderly, and people suffering from social anxiety, are at higher risk of being affected by the complications of using a face mask as opposed to a simple paper nasal spray. The discussion of this issue eventually evolved to include a statement that, “social distancing” was one of the underlying causes of the problem, and that therefore, it could be argued that a face mask might help reduce the occurrence of social distancing.

I think that this particular observation makes sense and I’d like to offer you some additional information supporting the premise. It appears that there are two distinct types of people who use face masks; those with severe social anxiety who want to avoid contact with others, and those with less severe social anxiety who don’t want to avoid contact with others but who do not want to exhibit symptoms of anxiety. Those in the latter group seem to me to be at a disadvantage, if face masks work, because they can’t “distress absorb” the anxiety they feel. Face masks may prevent the spread of infection, as has been speculated, but it is unclear how much they can alter an individual’s state of consciousness. Face masks may help some, but not all, social anxiety sufferers.

That brings me to my second point, which is that the results of studies performed on the impact of wearing a face mask during the LA County study were not statistically significant. In other words, there was a very large difference in the number of people who continued to report feeling their symptoms after wearing a mask versus those who didn’t report feeling their symptoms after wearing a mask. This does not mean that wearing a face mask does not have an effect on the severity of symptoms or the quality of life of the patient. It simply means that the effect was so very small that the number of patients who actually continued to report feeling their symptoms was too small to be statistically significant. The net result of this study is therefore the same as the first point made above; it is inconclusive.

In conclusion, the data collected in the study of the use of face masks in reducing the severity of the effects of the rotavirus on an adult patient is too limited to suggest whether or not face masks to reduce the spread of the disease to the public in general. At best, we can say that they might prevent the transmission of a particularly severe strain of the rotavirus to the general public. It has been estimated, though, that a face mask might prevent an average of two cases of the disease for every person exposed to it. This translates to an effective prevention rate of roughly one case of the disease for every million contact hours. So, even if the statistical analysis indicates that face masks do reduce the spread of the disease to the public, the actual risk to the health of those who wear them is not appreciably greater than the risk they would incur by not wearing them.

A similar study performed in another part of the USA has produced similar results. Researchers estimate that approximately one case of the disease for every twenty contacts was prevented by wearing a nose clip. It is not clear from these studies whether the nose clip reduced the severity of the disease, the prevalence of the disease, the age of the infected, or some other combination of these factors. However, one thing is clear: the use of a face mask by children might reduce the severity of this disease but is unlikely to have any significant effect on the overall prevalence of the disease. Similarly, while nose clips might reduce the severity of the disease, their use does not appear to reduce the prevalence of the disease in adults.