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Are surgical masks effective enough to prevent those infected with the flu from transmitting it to others? Do the masks provide wearers with sufficient protection against infection?

A recent study compared the efficacy of standard surgical masks to that of respirators in preventing the spread of influenza. Both were successful in stopping transmission, with respirators providing no observable additional benefit. Wearer protection against the flu was not directly examined in the study, however, the authors suggested that surgical masks would likely provide substantial benefit to wearers, even though respirators, which are designed to protect users against infection, would probably be more effective.

The results from this recent study suggest that recommendations advising those infected or potentially infected with the flu to wear surgical masks in public are justified. The ease of use and accessibility of surgical masks combined with the likely protective benefit they provide wearers suggests that recommendations for high-risk groups like the elderly to wear surgical masks to protect themselves from infection are also probably justified.