Wearing a face mask may reduce the severity of a COVID-19 infection and may help in creating immunity against the disease, according to a recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
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Wearing face masks could become a method to expose people to the coronavirus in a controlled and limited way, which may reduce the severity of a future COVID-19 infection, the study found, adding that this could lead to immunity and eventually slow the spread of the virus in the US and around the world.
Exposing people to a virus in a controlled way, known as “variolation,” was a method used during the smallpox outbreak. An uninfected individual was deliberately infected by having dried smallpox scabs blown up their nose, according to the US National Library of Medicine. Individuals then contracted a mild infection of smallpox and went on to develop immunity.
“Between 1 to 2 percent of those variolated died as compared to 30 percent who died when they contracted the disease naturally,” according to the US National Institutes of Health.
In their study, researchers at University of California San Francisco said that wearing a face mask protects the person by “blocking viral particles from entering the nose and mouth.”
The severity of the virus depends on the amount of the virus that an individual contracts, according to the researchers.
Therefore, if a person does become infected, a mask can help in avoiding a high dose of the virus from entering a person’s nose or mouth.
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“Since masks can filter out some virus-containing droplets (with filtering capacity determined by mask type), masking might reduce the inoculum that an exposed person inhales,” the doctors said in their research.
“If this theory bears out, population-wide masking, with any type of mask that increases acceptability and adherence, might contribute to increasing the proportion of [COVID-19] infections that are asymptomatic.”
Wearing face masks can be considered a “health measure that could increase the proportion of asymptomatic” patients and make the infection less deadly, according to the study.
Until a vaccine is made, this method could also increase the number of people with immunity and reduce severe illnesses and deaths caused by COVID-19.