Face Mask Fan and You Should Be Too

By Rosie Lyles, MD, MHA, MSc, FACA | January 2, 2019

I travel all the time. I get on planes for work and for myself. Recently I came back from Bali where I relaxed in the hot sun and tasted great food in a place so different from home. In all these travels, regardless of whether I am packing a business suit or a bathing suit, I always carry a medical face mask.

I do get some stares, especially from Americans, but I’ve spent too many years studying and tracking infectious diseases to let a few looks discourage me from protecting myself.

Face Masks are Not a Faux Pas

I’ve traveled to many Asian countries, and it’s common to see citizens there wearing medical face masks. In 2003 there was the SARS outbreak. Ten years later the world panicked about avian influenza. Luckily both outbreaks have been contained. I’ve found those wearing antiviral masks aren’t only trying to protect themselves, they’re also protecting those around them.

We can’t look at everyday infection prevention strategies as just an international issue. Just last month, there was an outbreak of adenovirus at a Maryland University. Now the CDC is issuing an alert and closely monitoring the respiratory illness that’s even struck a nursing home in New Jersey. What’s one of the recommendations in reducing the spread the virus? Yes, it’s covering your mouth and nose when sneezing or coughing. Providing face masks to these locations where students live and gather doesn’t sound like a bad idea to me.

Beyond Healthcare Settings

Doctors’ offices, hospitals and even nursing homes already have face mask stations for those who are coughing or have already been diagnosed with an illness. I truly believe we need to take that thinking outside of the healthcare setting.

A plane is a confined space shared by dozens and dozens for hours, with passengers breathing, coughing, sneezing, releasing viruses into the air. In September, about 100 passengers on a flight from Dubai to Kennedy International Airport became ill from the flu or the common cold just from a few other passengers who had boarded the aircraft sick. Eleven were taken to the hospital right when the plane landed.

So when there was someone with a persistent cough on one of my last flights, you better believe I put on that mask.

And let’s look at professional sports. We saw the Golden State Warriors learn the hard lessons of infection prevention when it was revealed the NBA team dealt with a meningitis scare last season. Covering your mouth and nose is one of the ways to prevent the spread of the deadly virus, and a face mask is ideal.

A Shift in Thinking

We all need to change our mindset about the medical face mask, especially at this time of year when everyone is traveling more for the holidays and the spread of the flu increases. Infection prevention protocols shouldn’t just apply to healthcare systems and facilities. Everyone should consider how they’re protecting themselves and others from illness.

There are multiple ways viruses and other infectious diseases can spread, but you can arm you and our team with best practices and solutions in infection prevention.

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Rosie Lyles, MD, MHA, MSc, FACA

Director of Clinicial Affairs

Rosie Lyles, MD, MHA, MSc, FACA is the director of clinical affairs at Medline. She serves as the infectious disease expert and primary medical lead for numerous healthcare businesses, while developing complex clinical strategies and supporting the product life cycle to post market and clinical follow-up. With over a decade of experience investigating healthcare associated infections (HAIs) with a particular focus on hospital epidemiology and prevention of multidrug-resistant organisms (MDROs) infections across the continuum of care, Dr. Lyles has led breakthrough clinical research, changing national guidelines and recommendations that improved patient care and outcomes for the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Chicago Prevention and Intervention Epicenter with numerous authored peer-reviewed journal articles related to infectious disease epidemiology. She is an active member of the Infectious Disease Society of America (IDSA) and the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America (SHEA). Dr. Lyles is a Board Member for the US Department of Veterans Affairs on the Health Services Research & Development Scientific Merit and for the White House Coronavirus (COVID-19) Commission for Safety and Quality for Nursing Homes, served as Medical Advisory Board for C. Diff Foundation, Co-Chairman of the Association for Health Care Environment (AHE) Industry Advisory Council, an Infectious Diseases Expert for the Florida Health Care Association, and participated in White House Forum on Antibiotic Stewardship (2015) for the National Action Plan for Combating Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria.

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