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Due to recent threats of the Coronavirus, Chinese tourists in Dubai Mall wear masks to contain the virus from spreading. Picture taken on 26th January, 2020. Image Credit: Photo Clint Egbert/Gulf News

Dubai: Should we or should we not wear face masks in the UAE given the ongoing global Coronavirus crisis? Are they of any help to UAE residents? Not really, say doctors.

Practising stringent hand hygiene routines might be more effective in keeping infections at bay, rather than wearing face masks, say the specialists.

Dr Charles Stanford

Dr Charles Stanford

Dr Charles Stanford, senior director at VPS healthcare who has been a practising virologist, pulmonologist and internal medicine specialist at the Department of Health, Abu Dhabi, told Gulf News: “Those who tested positive have been quarantined and the UAE government is taking very stringent steps. It’s not like the general public is in direct contact with the infected. By and large, practising simple oral and hand hygiene routines as advised by the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) is what is makes more common sense than wearing surgical or regular masks in the city.”

Psychological reassurance

Dr Stanford, who has earlier collaborated with HAAD on the SARS screening, said masks are required only in places such as hospitals and clinics where visitors and health staff are exposed to respiratory infections. “Masks would be effective in keeping droplets of infection from sneeze, spits, body fluids etc that may be directly transferred from someone who is infected by the Coronavirus. So far, we know that the five cases detected here are in quarantine. So there is no threat from people inland. It could make sense if residents were exposed to a large number of people coming from overseas travel. So masks are more of a psychological reassurance.”

Even if residents want to wear a mask, it is important to observe certain fundamental precautions, added Dr Stanford.

“Ordinary masks which are loose and don’t cover the face and mouth are likely to let the droplets of infection causing microbes escape into a patient’s oral cavity triggering infection. Therefore, it is essential that if a patient wears a mask, it should be tightly secured around the face and mouth with no gaps.”

More than being reassured with the use of mask, Dr Stanford said it was the meticulous hygiene routine which could actually help people ward off airborne infections. “People feel that masks provide blanket protection. But consider this. If there are infection-causing microbes sticking to the outside surface, if and when it is removed, these will be transferred via the hand to the face and mouth of the individual and when kept on any surface will transfer the microbes to that surface. Therefore, the best way to ensure that an individual is properly sanitised is washing of hands with warm water and anti-microbial soap for at least 20 to 30 seconds and drying it well. Making sure one does not frequently touch surfaces such as door handles, table tops which are likely to be contaminated helps. In a hospital, one wears goggles in addition to face masks to make sure no part of the face is exposed. The microbes can enter through exposure to the eyes as well.”

Disposal of masks

Dr Sandeep Pargi

Dr Sandeep Pargi

Facial masks usually become damp with saliva and the disposal of so many masks around the city might pose a bigger health issue. Dr Sandeep Pargi, consultant pulmonologist with Aster Hospital Mankhool, said. “Usually, one person needs one face mask per day. He or she might want to change it in case it was dropped or put on some contaminated surface. All masks must be disposed off in the manner in which infectious waste in hospitals is disposed (incinerated at hospital grade incinerators). I would advise people to keep a separate yellow bag to collect masks at home from family members and dispose it off at a hospital or health authority outlet each day to avoid any contamination.”

Which masks are appropriate?

Should people still want to wear masks, it’s the N95 which has been found to be most effective. Dr Pargi said: ‘The N95 is stiffer, has a stronger filter which keeps many more microbes out and fits tightly over the face and ear contour without leaving any gaps for any fluids or contaminated droplets to enter.”

Dr Pargi said,“In a mask, the filter is between the two surfaces and that is what blocks the microbes. The manufacturers have made one side blue just to differentiate between two surfaces. Just wearing the mask tightly around the face in high contamination areas is effective, whichever side might be worn in or out.”