Facemasks may reduce severity of COVID-19

Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Scientists from McMaster University found that facemasks may reduce the severity of COVID-19 and pressure on health systems.

The finding showed the population-level consequences of a potentially significant––and unobvious––benefit of wearing masks.

The research is published in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface and was conducted by David Earn et al.

In the study, the team developed a model to investigate COVID-19 “variolation”––an incidental but potentially beneficial form of immunization achieved by inhaling smaller doses of the virus than would be inhaled without a mask.

A form of variolation was deliberately used in the 18th century to control smallpox. It involved infecting a healthy individual with small doses of the live virus taken from a dried scab or pustule of a person infected with smallpox.

Variolated individuals often experienced far less severe disease than those who were infected naturally, but nevertheless were immune to further infection.

Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, it was suggested that people who were infected while masked might experience mild illness and could be considered “variolated”.

The new mathematical model allows researchers to estimate the potential impact of this effect on the population as a whole.

The model suggests effective masking could drastically slow the spread of COVID-19, reduce the magnitude of the pandemic peak by “flattening the curve,” and reduce the prevalence of severe cases from that point forward.

The team found the value of masking is under-appreciated in a public health context, especially as COVID-19 transitions from pandemic to endemic, and they suggest people should think twice about getting rid of mask mandates.

The results of this research are potentially applicable to any respiratory infection that is transmitted by inhaling infectious particles.

For future COVID variants or other infectious diseases, the model can be used to study how increasing the proportion of mild cases affects the overall dynamics of disease spread.

If you care about COVID, please read studies about treatment that could prevent COVID death and lung damage, and CBD from cannabis may inhibit COVID-19 infection.

For more information about COVID, please see recent studies about the most effective face-mask practices to reduce spread of COVID-19, and results showing people with COVID-19 infections may age much faster.

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