Face masks to stop the transmission of respiratory viruses from infected people

Added August 3, 2020

What is this? COVID-19 is a respiratory infection and face masks are one type of physical barrier to help reduce the transmission of respiratory viruses from infected people. Several systematic reviews have been done and more details for these, including citations and links to the full reviews, are available by scrolling down this summary.

What was found: At the time of their review, MacIntyre et al. reported that face use by symptomatic individuals may reduce transmission, and can contribute to the benefits of face mask use in the wider community.

 At the time of their review, Chu et al. reported wearing face masks, especially N95 masks and respirators, can prevent infection by coronaviruses, and that eye protection can provide additional benefits.

Cowling et al. and bin-Reza et al. reported that the use of face masks by infected patients may reduce onward spread of respiratory viruses. Mask use with hand sanitizer use may reduce secondary transmission of respiratory infections within households, particularly if started within 36 hours of contact with an affected individual; but overall results of these two reviews were inconclusive.

What are the reviews:

Citation: MacIntyre CR, Chughtai AA. A rapid systematic review of the efficacy of face masks and respirators against coronaviruses and other respiratory transmissible viruses for the community, healthcare workers and sick patients. International Journal of Nursing Studies. 2020 Aug:108;103629.

In this rapid review, the authors searched for randomized trials of respiratory protection by healthcare workers, sick patients and community members. They restricted their searches to articles published in English and did their most recent search on 17 April 2020. They included 5 randomized trials relating to face mask use by sick patients.

Citation: Chu DK, Akl EA, Duda S, Solo K, Yaacoub S, Schünemann HJ, El-harakeh A, Bognanni A, Lotfi T, Loeb M, Hajizadeh A. 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. The Lancet. 2020 Jun 1.

In this rapid review, the authors searched for studies of the effects of physical distancing, face masks, and eye protection among patients with confirmed or probable COVID-19 infection. They did not restrict by language of publication and searched up to 3 May 2020. They included 172 observational studies, of which 44 were comparative studies from Asia, Europe, America and Canada.

Citation: bin-Reza F, Lopez Chavarrias V, Nicoll A, Chamberland ME. The use of masks and respirators to prevent transmission of influenza: a systematic review of the scientific evidence. Influenza and Other Respiratory Viruses 2012;6(4):257-67.

In this systematic review, the authors searched for studies of the use of masks and respirators to prevent transmission of influenza and other respiratory viruses. They searched for articles published in English up to January 2011. They identified 8 randomized trials and 9 observational studies.

Citation: Cowling BJ, Zhou Y, Ip DK, Leung GM, Aiello AE. Face masks to prevent transmission of influenza virus: a systematic review. Epidemiology and Infection 2010;138(4):449-56.

In this systematic review, the authors searched for studies of the effects of face masks and respirators on transmission of influenza viruses. They restricted their searches to articles published in English up to August 2009. They included 6 randomized trials, 4 observational studies and 1 experimental volunteer study.

Other related summaries:

Evidence Aid has also prepared combined summaries on the following topics:

  • Face Mask Use in the Community
  • Respiratory Protection of Healthcare Workers

 

Disclaimer: This summary has been written by staff and volunteers of Evidence Aid in order to make the content of the original document accessible to decision makers who are searching for the available evidence on the coronavirus (COVID-19) but may not have the time, initially, to read the original report in full. This summary is not intended as a substitute for the medical advice of physicians, other health workers, professional associations, guideline developers, or national governments and international agencies. If readers of this summary think that the evidence that is presented within it is relevant to their decision-making they should refer to the content and details of the original article, and the advice and guidelines offered by other sources of expertise, before making decisions. Evidence Aid cannot be held responsible for any decisions made about the coronavirus (COVID-19) on the basis of this summary alone.

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