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When a Texan farm worker caught bird flu from cattle recently, social media was abuzz with rumours. While bird flu is not a human pandemic, scientists and policymakers the world over are keen to prepare as best they can for when such a pandemic emerges – a tricky task, given that science is messy, policy must be pragmatic and people’s values don’t always align.

It’s time for masks to enter the chat. At the beginning of a pandemic caused by a novel or newly mutated virus, there may be no vaccine, no firm knowledge about how bad things will get and no specific treatment. Slowing transmission until more is known will be critical.

Getting most people to wear a mask could nip the outbreak in the bud, preventing a pandemic or lessening its impact. Wearing a mask is inconvenient, but not as inconvenient as lockdowns.

But do masks work? A review of masks and respirators, that looked only at clinical trials, concluded that there was not enough evidence to assess whether mask wearing reduces the risk of spreading or contracting respiratory diseases. However, we disagree with that.



Read the full story on The Conversation website written by Trish Greenhalgh, Professor of Primary Care Health Sciences at the Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences; C Raina MacIntyre Professor of Global Biosecurity atKirby Institute, UNSW Sydney and David Fisman, Prof in the Division of Epidemiology, University of Toronto.

Read the story also on the Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences website.