Not all surgical masks protect you from swine flu

Sonia Wright
Sonia Wright
Dr. Roger Kimura
Dr. Roger Kimura

By Leland Kim - bio | email

HONOLULU (KHNL) - Health officials confirmed Monday five new cases of swine flu in Hawaii are linked to Anuenue School in Palolo Valley. They include three Anuenue siblings and their parent, and an Anuenue student, unrelated to that family. This brings the total number of Anuenue School related swine flu cases to 14.

Aina Hina Elementary and Mililani Middle School each reported a case of swine flu last week. There are now 26 cases of swine flu in Hawaii. The state Department of Health is advising the Department of Education to keep schools open. It says this is the natural course of events with an influenza virus. And health officials say it's important to continue practicing good hygiene.

We've all heard the advice by now: wash your hands to prevent the spread of viruses. But beyond that, you could wear a mask, but you have to know which ones protect you and which ones don't really do anything.

If you go to a store or a pharmacy, chances are you're going to see an aisle filled with different types of face masks. For some, the H1N1 virus is on their minds.

"I'm really worried about it," said Sonia Wright, a Salt Lake resident. "I guess we should recommend that if someone has swine flu, we should use masks."

But are all masks created equal? Well, not really. You have to read the box to find out. This one, for example, says it does not protect you from contracting diseases.

None of the masks sold on this shelf shields you from the influenza virus. You need the N95 respirator mask if you want protection.

"Are you surprised that what they sell here don't protect you against swine flu?" asked KHNL.

"Yes, I am surprised?" said Wright. "I thought they would really help."

"The masks probably don't do as much as people want to think a lot of it because there's specific ways to properly wear them," said Dr. Roger Kimura, an internal medicine physician.

So the key is to buy the right type of mask and wear it properly. Also, identify symptoms early on and get medical help.

"We still have to be vigilant, look for anybody who's got any kind of respiratory illness, cough, cold, sore throat, and fever," said Dr. Kimura.

As swine flu continues to spread, doctors say it's important to be educated about the virus.

"What's the lesson from today?" asked KHNL.

"The lesson is read before you buy to see if it will really protect you," said Wright.

You can find the N95 respirator masks at some pharmacies and medical supplies stores, but call ahead to find out if they have any in stock.