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Fighting Bird Flu with Masks - Still a Question Mark

Bird flu has spread out its wings all around and enveloped most of the nations. Although, various measures like culling of the infected stock, etc, have been taken on large scales by the governments, it still has not been nipped at the bud.

A debate is still going on 'Surgical masks' which are suggested by Federal health officials, with many supporting the view, while others, snubbing it off.

The officials released the final guidelines for the usage of these masks, and revealed that surgical masks “should be considered” by anyone going into a crowd, and thicker industrial masks “should be considered” for anyone taking care of the sick.

On the other side of the coin, there are some health authorities who are not too much inclined for the usage of surgical masks, but still they are not snubbing it away altogether, holding that the masks can be used as a preventive measure in some cases.

The safety of the people is the foremost priority in the hands of every nation, but the consumer advice to use marks are still under a cloud and many debates are going on for the advantages and disadvantages of the use of such masks. Though the science behind their usage is unclear, researchers are studying furiously to unravel the underlying facts.

The brief summary of the new guidelines meant for the public changed at the last minute and the researchers changed the words “wear a face mask if” to “a face mask should be considered if.”

Officials informed that earlier they were sure of the benefits of using surgical masks when a super-flu breaks, but now the hesitation has come because there was little scientific data to support the view.

“If there were a fail-safe, perfect solution, we’d recommend it absolutely,” said Dr. Michael Bell, chief of infection control for the national preparedness center at the C.D.C. “But there isn’t a crisp, hard guideline. It’s not like a seat belt, something you should wear at all times.”

Dr. Julie Gerberding, CDC director held that wearing masks is not the only way to prevent the dangerous epidemic, and basic precautions like eschewing crowds, obviating close contact with anyone at work or school, washing hands and avoiding contact with people who have respiratory infections, should also be kept in mind, and strictly adhered to.

"We are concerned that people will think the mask is the magic bullet. It can have a role in personal protection but they are not the only thing," Gerberding told a news conference in Atlanta.

Gerberding supports the masks use, especially for people who are already sick, so as to prevent droplet infection. It also protects people who come in contact with the patient’s everyday- like family members, health care workers, etc.

But, Dr. Bell said, “They do provide some protection for general people as well…for example, during that unfortunate moment in the grocery store line when some little kid sneezes in your face.”

The masks come in two types- one is the skinny throwaway or wash-and-wear cloth or paper ones worn by surgeons and dentists. While the N-95 respirators are stockier fiber masks, often round or duck-billed in shape, usually worn by construction workers and nurses handling infectious patients. The former cost a few cents, while the latter cost $1 or more.

However, the typical N-95 mask is not free from limitations, and a new type of mask has been developed by the health authorities, which promises a better protection. These masks use nanotechnology, which is enhanced with filter media to remove virus and bacteria from inhaled and exhaled breath. The first to use nanotechnology, the mask contains nanoparticles, which enhance the intrinsic filtration competence of the media by acting as a vicious absorbent to slay virus and bacteria that come in contact with the filtration system.

It is impossible for the scientists to predict the next bird flu epidemic, but it is not impossible for them to suggest that bird flu might spark once it starts spreading easily from person to person.

The usage of masks is infected with various limitations-they can become impure by sneezes and damp on humid days. Some suggest that flu does not spread only through air. It is because of these limitations that the usage of masks is still a debate.

The guidelines given on Thursday were the first to awaken the general public and save them from the clutches of the dangerous flu. However, these guidelines are likely to change towards the end of this year when long-awaited results from mask research emerges.