If you thought masks were a thing of the past – think again. Health officials are making a comeback

Flu season has well and truly arrived in Australia and is shaping up to be one of the worst in years as case numbers continue to rise.

It can be a dreadful disease, and combined with COVID-19, which is still circulating in the community, it is already putting pressure on the nation’s hospital and health services.

Some health experts, including Queensland’s deputy chief health officer, have called on people to consider wearing face masks in public again to reduce the spread of influenza and COVID-19.

Masks have been an essential tool to stop the spread of viruses throughout pandemics – so could they do the same with the flu?

Will wearing a mask prevent me from getting the flu?

Not necessarily.

Gerry Fitzgerald, Professor of Public Health and Disaster Management at the Queensland University of Technology, said masks can certainly offer some protection in reducing the spread of influenza, but are more effective if you are already infected.

Common flu, influenza, cold, snuff shot.
Queenslanders are prepared for the prospect of an unprecedented flu season.,ABC News: Kim Agius,

“The masks that are generally available do not provide much protection to the person due to their lightweight material,” he said.

“When you exhale, most of the viral particles you breathe in … are larger.

,[When your face is covered]thereby reducing their chances [infected people] spreading it to non-infected people.”

The flu spreads easily, mainly through sneezing and coughing.

Professor Fitzgerald said the effectiveness of the mask also depends on the kind of clothing you wear and how you wear it.

More on that soon.

Where should I wear a mask?

Woman wearing a mask sitting on a suitcase in the airport
Face masks are required at all airports and public transport.,Pexels/Anna Whites,

Professor Fitzgerald said that people should definitely wear masks in the following settings:

  • hospital
  • aged care home
  • disability facilities
  • airports
  • on public transport
  • in congested areas

“Influenza is a less serious disease than COVID-19, but it is serious nonetheless … and it causes many deaths each year,” Professor Fitzgerald said.

“So in terms of protection against the flu, in high-risk settings, or where social distancing is not possible, certainly [you should wear a mask],

“The quick answer is – if you’re in situations where it’s difficult to keep your distance from others, it’s worth considering wearing a mask.”

Which mask should I wear?

Face mask being worn in office generic
N95 masks provide more protection than surgical masks.,ABC Kimberley: Andrew Seaborn,

A face mask can be a reusable cloth face mask or a single-use surgical mask, which includes a P2 or N95 mask.

For it to be effective, it should cover your nose and mouth and fit snugly under your chin, over the bridge of your nose, and on the sides of your face.

Surgical masks can prevent other people’s respiratory droplets from being released when a person breathes, talks, coughs or sneezes, although they have some design flaws and should only be worn once.

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