Does a surgical/medical mask reduce the chance of contracting viruses that cause respiratory illnesses like COVID-19?

Last updated: January 24, 2022
Yes. The vast majority of studies in this list came to this conclusion.
This short answer was generated by aggregating the answers that each of the studies below gave to the question (as indicated by State of K members) and adjusting for source quality and other factors. If key studies are missing or the answers attributed to individual studies are incorrect, the above answer could be wrong. For medical questions, don't rely on the information here. Consult a medical professional.
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YES ANSWERS
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NO ANSWERS
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NO DATA ON ANSWER


Chart summary of 11 studies examining this question
Showing up to 10 at a time

All answers are assigned by State of K users. The label Couldn't Identify means that State of K was not able to determine whether a study answers the question "yes" or "no". This could be due to several factors. One possibility is that a study found some evidence to indicate that the answer to the question is "yes" and some evidence to indicate that the answer is "no". This often happens when a study uses two or more proxies to study the same phenomenon (i.e. firearm sales figures and self-reported firearm ownership rates as proxies for the prevalence of firearms) and the proxies yield different results when looking for correlations with another phenomenon (i.e. firearm-related deaths). Alternatively, the label may be applied if the phenomenon under study (i.e. whether breast milk improves cognitive function) is true for one group, but not another (i.e. true for girls, but not for boys). Yet another possibility is that a study found there was insufficient evidence to reach a conclusion regarding the question. Finally, the full text or abstract of a study may not have been written clearly or was inaccessible. This would make it difficult to determine how a study answered a question.

All labels of Literature Reviews and source quality are assigned by State of K. All labels of High Quality Source are assigned based on whether the publication in which the article appeared was ranked as Q1 by Scimago Institutions Rankings. Certain well-regarded think tanks are also given this label.

Literature Reviews
Although we recommend you consider all of the studies below, we believe the following studies are literature reviews, which survey and evaluate many studies on this question:

SUMMARIES OF STUDIES
Total studies in list: 11
Sorted by publication year
1
SARS-CoV-2, surgeons and surgical masks
"The exact risk association of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) for surgeons is not quantified which may be affected by their risk of exposure and individual factors. The objective of this review is to quantify the risk of COVID-19 among surgeons, and explore whether facemask can minimise the risk of COVID-19 among surgeons. A systematised review was carried out by searching MEDLINE to locate items on severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 or COVID-19 in relation to health care workers (HCWs) especially those work in surgical specialities including surgical nurses and intensivists. Additionally, systematic reviews that assessed the effectiveness of facemask against viral respiratory infections, including COVID-19, among HCWs were identified. Data from identified articles were abstracted, synthesised and summarised. Fourteen primary studies that provided data on severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 infection or experience among surgeons and 11 systematic reviews that provided evidence of the effectiveness of facemask (and other personal protective equipment) were summarised. Although the risk of COVID-19 could not be quantified precisely among surgeons, about 14% of HCWs including surgeons had COVID-19, there could be variations depending on settings. Facemask was found to be somewhat protective against COVID-19, but the HCWs’ compliance was highly variable ranging from zero to 100%. Echoing surgical societies’ guidelines we continue to recommend facemask use among surgeons to prevent COVID-19."
AUTHORS
Harunor Rashid
Amani S Alqahtani
Sarab Mansoor
Gouri Rani Banik
Mohammad Ibrahim Khalil
PUBLISHED
2021 World Journal of Clinical Cases
Literature Review
Yes
Yes
2
Face masks effectively limit the probability of SARS-CoV-2 transmission
"Airborne transmission by droplets and aerosols is important for the spread of viruses. Face masks are a well-established preventive measure, but their effectiveness for mitigating severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) transmission is still under debate. We show that variations in mask efficacy can be explained by different regimes of virus abundance and are related to population-average infection probability and reproduction number. For SARS-CoV-2, the viral load of infectious individuals can vary by orders of magnitude. We find that most environments and contacts are under conditions of low virus abundance (virus-limited), where surgical masks are effective at preventing virus spread. More-advanced masks and other protective equipment are required in potentially virus-rich indoor environments, including medical centers and hospitals. Masks are particularly effective in combination with other preventive measures like ventilation and distancing."
AUTHORS
Nan Ma
Yafang Cheng
PUBLISHED
2021 Science
High Quality Source
Yes
Yes
3
Effectiveness of Mask Wearing to Control Community Spread of SARS-CoV-2
"Prior to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, the efficacy of community mask wearing to reduce the spread of respiratory infections was controversial because there were no solid relevant data to support their use. During the pandemic, the scientific evidence has increased. Compelling data now demonstrate that community mask wearing is an effective nonpharmacologic intervention to reduce the spread of this infection, especially as source control to prevent spread from infected persons, but also as protection to reduce wearers’ exposure to infection."
AUTHORS
Jay C. Butler
John T. Brooks
PUBLISHED
2021 JAMA
High Quality Source
Yes
Yes
4
Evaluation of masks’ internal and external surfaces used by health care workers and patients in coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2) wards
"One of the simplest and most effective individual measures is to wear a mask to prevent the spread of respiratory droplets from carriers to healthy people and patients admitted to corona wards and their staff. This research aimed to investigate the contamination of internal and external surfaces of various masks used by patients and staff with SARS coronavirus, as well as the possibility of airborne transmission in Imam Khomeini Hospital, Ardabil. For this purpose, twenty-five staff members and ten patients participated voluntarily in this cross-sectional study. Sampling was performed using swaps on both sides (inside and outside) of various surgical masks, N-95, and filtering face piece FFP2 through standard methods in compliance with the relevant conditions and from a surface of at least 5 cm2. Next, the collected samples were immediately transferred to a laboratory and analyzed by real-time PCR method to detect the presence of SARS-CoV-2 virus after viral genome extraction. Based on the obtained results, from a total of 30 collected samples (25 of personnel masks plus 5 samples of hospitalized patients’ masks). A total of 60 masks were sampled. For every collected sample, the researchers studied both inside and outside of the mask. Upon analyzing the data, it was showed that 6 mask samples were positive for the presence of coronavirus. Nonetheless, all samples taken from both inside and outside of the personnel masks (N-95 and FFP2 types of masks) were negative. Among the 6 positive samples, four cases were related to the internal part, one case to the outer part of the three-layer surgical masks, and one to the outer part of the N-95 masks in hospitalized patients. As masks reduce the concentration of virus particles, they can play an important role in creating immunity."
AUTHOR
Abdollah Dargahi, etc
PUBLISHED
2021 Environmental Research
High Quality Source
Yes
Yes
5
Physical distancing, face masks, and eye protection to prevent person-to-person transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19: a systematic review and meta-analysis
"BackgroundSevere acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) causes COVID-19 and is spread person-to-person through close contact. We aimed to investigate the effects of physical distance, face masks, and eye protection on virus transmission in health-care and non-health-care (eg, community) settings.MethodsWe did a systematic review and meta-analysis to investigate the optimum distance for avoiding person-to-person virus transmission and to assess the use of face masks and eye protection to prevent transmission of viruses. We obtained data for SARS-CoV-2 and the betacoronaviruses that cause severe acute respiratory syndrome, and Middle East respiratory syndrome from 21 standard WHO-specific and COVID-19-specific sources. We searched these data sources from database inception to May 3, 2020, with no restriction by language, for comparative studies and for contextual factors of acceptability, feasibility, resource use, and equity. We screened records, extracted data, and assessed risk of bias in duplicate. We did frequentist and Bayesian meta-analyses and random-effects meta-regressions. We rated the certainty of evidence according to Cochrane methods and the GRADE approach. This study is registered with PROSPERO, CRD42020177047.FindingsOur search identified 172 observational studies across 16 countries and six continents, with no randomised controlled trials and 44 relevant comparative studies in health-care and non-health-care settings (n=25 697 patients). Transmission of viruses was lower with physical distancing of 1 m or more, compared with a distance of less than 1 m (n=10 736, pooled adjusted odds ratio [aOR] 0·18, 95% CI 0·09 to 0·38; risk difference [RD] −10·2%, 95% CI −11·5 to −7·5; moderate certainty); protection was increased as distance was lengthened (change in relative risk [RR] 2·02 per m; pinteraction=0·041; moderate certainty). Face mask use could result in a large reduction in risk of infection (n=2647; aOR 0·15, 95% CI 0·07 to 0·34, RD −14·3%, −15·9 to −10·7; low certainty), with stronger associations with N95 or similar respirators compared with disposable surgical masks or similar (eg, reusable 12–16-layer cotton masks; pinteraction=0·090; posterior probability >95%, low certainty). Eye protection also was associated with less infection (n=3713; aOR 0·22, 95% CI 0·12 to 0·39, RD −10·6%, 95% CI −12·5 to −7·7; low certainty). Unadjusted studies and subgroup and sensitivity analyses showed similar findings.InterpretationThe findings of this systematic review and meta-analysis support physical distancing of 1 m or more and provide quantitative estimates for models and contact tracing to inform policy. Optimum use of face masks, respirators, and eye protection in public and health-care settings should be informed by these findings and contextual factors. Robust randomised trials are needed to better inform the evidence for these interventions, but this systematic appraisal of currently best available evidence m"
AUTHORS
Elia A Akl
Derek K Chu
PUBLISHED
2020 The Lancet
Literature Review
High Quality Source
Yes
Yes
6
Masks for Prevention of Respiratory Virus Infections, Including SARS-CoV-2, in Health Care and Community Settings
"Background:Recommendations on masks for preventing coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) vary.Purpose:To examine the effectiveness of N95, surgical, and cloth masks in community and health care settings for preventing respiratory virus infections, and effects of reuse or extended use of N95 masks.Data Sources:Multiple electronic databases, including the World Health Organization COVID-19 database and medRxiv preprint server (2003 through 14 April 2020; surveillance through 2 June 2020), and reference lists.Study Selection:Randomized trials of masks and risk for respiratory virus infection, including severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), and observational studies of mask use and coronavirus infection risk were included. New evidence will be incorporated by using living review methods.Data Extraction:One reviewer abstracted data and assessed methodological limitations; a second reviewer provided verification.Data Synthesis:39 studies (18 randomized controlled trials and 21 observational studies; 33 867 participants) were included. No study evaluated reuse or extended use of N95 masks. Evidence on SARS-CoV-2 was limited to 2 observational studies with serious limitations. Community mask use was possibly associated with decreased risk for SARS-CoV-1 infection in observational studies. In high- or moderate-risk health care settings, observational studies found that risk for infection with SARS-CoV-1 and Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus probably decreased with mask use versus nonuse and possibly decreased with N95 versus surgical mask use. Randomized trials in community settings found possibly no difference between N95 versus surgical masks and probably no difference between surgical versus no mask in risk for influenza or influenza-like illness, but compliance was low. In health care settings, N95 and surgical masks were probably associated with similar risks for influenza-like illness and laboratory-confirmed viral infection; clinical respiratory illness had inconsistency. Bothersome symptoms were common.Limitations:There were few SARS-CoV-2 studies, observational studies have methodological limitations, and the review was done by using streamlined methods.Conclusion:Evidence on mask effectiveness for respiratory infection prevention is stronger in health care than community settings. N95 respirators might reduce SARS-CoV-1 risk versus surgical masks in health care settings, but applicability to SARS-CoV-2 is uncertain."
AUTHORS
Tracy Dana
Roger Chou
PUBLISHED
2020 Annals of Internal Medicine
High Quality Source
Yes
Yes
7
Effectiveness of Face Masks in Preventing Airborne Transmission of SARS-Cov-2
"Guidelines from the CDC and the WHO recommend the wearing of facemasks to prevent the spread of coronavirus (CoV) disease 2019 (COVID-19); however,the protective efficiency of such masks against airborne transmission of infectioussevere acute respiratory syndrome CoV-2 (SARS-CoV-2) droplets/aerosols is unknown.Here, we developed an airborne transmission simulator of infectious SARS-CoV-2-containing droplets/aerosols produced by human respiration and coughs and assessed the transmissibility of the infectious droplets/aerosols and the ability of various types of face masks to block the transmission. We found that cotton masks,surgical masks, and N95 masks all have a protective effect with respect to the transmission of infective droplets/aerosols of SARS-CoV-2 and that the protective efficiency was higher when masks were worn by a virus spreader. Importantly, medicalmasks (surgical masks and even N95 masks) were not able to completely block thetransmission of virus droplets/aerosols even when completely sealed. Our data willhelp medical workers understand the proper use and performance of masks and determine whether they need additional equipment to protect themselves from infected patients."
AUTHORS
Kiyoko Iwatsuki-Horimoto
Yuri Furusawa
Hiroshi Ueki
PUBLISHED
2020 American Society for Microbiology
Yes
Yes
8
Medical masks and Respirators for the Protection of Healthcare Workers from SARS-CoV-2 and other viruses
"The use of medical masks and respirators as personal protective equipment is pivotal to reducing the level of biological hazard to which healthcare workers are exposed during the outbreak of highly diffusible pathogens, such as the recent novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. Unfortunately, during this pandemic, supplies are rapidly running out worldwide, with potential consequences for the rate of occupational infections. Also, knowledge about specific characteristics of respirators is of utmost importance to select the proper type according to the clinical setting. A wide variety of literature is available on the topic, but mostly based on Influenza viruses infection models. Clinical evidence on the use of respirators is poor and interest in the topic has not been constant over time. A better understanding of SARS-CoV-2 transmission is needed, together with high-quality clinical data on the use of respirators or alternative devices. Moreover, healthcare workers, regardless of their level of experience, should receive specific training. This review aims to summarize the available evidence on the use of medical masks and respirators in the context of viral infections, especially the current coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19)."
AUTHORS
Antonino Giarratano
Cesare Gregoretti
Pasquale Iozzo
Giuseppe Accurso
Filippo Vitale
Mariachiara Ippolito et al
PUBLISHED
2020 Pulmonology
Couldn't Identify
Couldn't Identify
9
Physical interventions to interrupt or reduce the spread of respiratory viruses
"Background: Viral epidemics or pandemics of acute respiratory infections (ARIs) pose a global threat. Examples are influenza (H1N1) caused by the H1N1pdm09 virus in 2009, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in 2003, and coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) caused by SARS-CoV-2 in 2019. Antiviral drugs and vaccines may be insufficient to prevent their spread. This is an update of a Cochrane Review published in 2007, 2009, 2010, and 2011. The evidence summarised in this review does not include results from studies from the current COVID-19 pandemic.Objectives: To assess the effectiveness of physical interventions to interrupt or reduce the spread of acute respiratory viruses.Search methods: We searched CENTRAL, PubMed, Embase, CINAHL on 1 April 2020. We searched ClinicalTrials.gov, and the WHO ICTRP on 16 March 2020. We conducted a backwards and forwards citation analysis on the newly included studies.Selection criteria: We included randomised controlled trials (RCTs) and cluster-RCTs of trials investigating physical interventions (screening at entry ports, isolation, quarantine, physical distancing, personal protection, hand hygiene, face masks, and gargling) to prevent respiratory virus transmission. In previous versions of this review we also included observational studies. However, for this update, there were sufficient RCTs to address our study aims. DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: We used standard methodological procedures expected by Cochrane. We used GRADE to assess the certainty of the evidence. Three pairs of review authors independently extracted data using a standard template applied in previous versions of this review, but which was revised to reflect our focus on RCTs and cluster-RCTs for this update. We did not contact trialists for missing data due to the urgency in completing the review. We extracted data on adverse events (harms) associated with the interventions.Main results: We included 44 new RCTs and cluster-RCTs in this update, bringing the total number of randomised trials to 67. There were no included studies conducted during the COVID-19 pandemic. Six ongoing studies were identified, of which three evaluating masks are being conducted concurrent with the COVID pandemic, and one is completed. Many studies were conducted during non-epidemic influenza periods, but several studies were conducted during the global H1N1 influenza pandemic in 2009, and others in epidemic influenza seasons up to 2016. Thus, studies were conducted in the context of lower respiratory viral circulation and transmission compared to COVID-19. The included studies were conducted in heterogeneous settings, ranging from suburban schools to hospital wards in high-income countries; crowded inner city settings in low-income countries; and an immigrant neighbourhood in a high-income country. Compliance with interventions was low in many studies. The risk of bias for the RCTs and cluster-RCTs was mostly high or unclear. Medical/surgical masks compare"
AUTHORS
Lubna A Al-Ansary
Eliana Ferroni
Liz Dooley
Chris B Del Mar
Tom Jefferson
PUBLISHED
2020 Cochrane Library: Cochrane Reviews
High Quality Source
Couldn't Identify
Couldn't Identify
10
Face masks vs. COVID-19: a systematic review
"The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) spread rapidly around the world. Two types of approaches have been applied to use of face masks as a tool to prevent the spread this disease in society. The aim of the systematic review was to assess the effectiveness of face masks against the novel coronavirus. A literature search was performed using different databases until April 30, 2020. Search terms were ‘facemasks’, ‘novel coronavirus’, and ‘healthcare workers’. Five studies were included in the systematic review. A study stated that no difference between surgical and cotton masks. Also, two studies have emphasized the use of surgical masks or N95 respirators by medical staff, and two other studies emphasized the use of any type of face mask by general public. More studies in controlled contexts and studies of infections in healthcare and community places are needed for better definition of the effectiveness of face masks in preventing coronavirus."
AUTHORS
Amir Jamshidnezhad
Leila Ibrahimi Ghavamabadi
Gholamheidar Teimori
Abbas Ghodrati-Torbati
Behzad Fouladi Dehaghi
PUBLISHED
2020 Investigacion y Educacion en Enfermeria
Literature Review
Yes
Yes
11
Effectiveness of precautions against droplets and contact in prevention of nosocomial transmission of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS)
"We did a case-control study in five Hong Kong hospitals, with 241 non-infected and 13 infected staff with documented exposures to 11 index patients with severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) during patient care. All participants were surveyed about use of mask, gloves, gowns, and hand-washing, as recommended under droplets and contact precautions when caring for index patients with SARS. 69 staff who reported use of all four measures were not infected, whereas all infected staff had omitted at least one measure (p=0·0224). Fewer staff who wore masks (p=0·0001), gowns (p=0·006), and washed their hands (p=0·047) became infected compared with those who didn't, but stepwise logistic regression was significant only for masks (p=0·011). Practice of droplets precaution and contact precaution is adequate in significantly reducing the risk of infection after exposures to patients with SARS. The protective role of the mask suggests that in hospitals, infection is transmitted by droplets."
AUTHOR
WH Seto FRCPath, etc
PUBLISHED
2003 The Lancet
High Quality Source
Yes
Yes