Health, Latest on coronavirus outbreak

Improper use of medical masks can cause infections

N95 masks useful only in intensive care when worn by health personnel, infectious diseases physicians say

Dilara Hamit  | 15.03.2020 - Update : 15.03.2020
Improper use of medical masks can cause infections


As mask consumption around the globe grows amid the coronavirus outbreak, doctors in Turkey are warning against their misuse as the devices can cause infections.

Gulay Kilic, an infectious disease doctor, said despite warnings, the N95 masks are used incorrectly, supplies are low and there are not enough masks for health care personnel who need them.

It is very difficult to use the masks because once they become sweaty, in a short time it can cause infections, Kilic said, and noted only patients with weakness and fatigue should wear masks.

Dr. Alpay Azap, a member of the Health Ministry’s Coronavirus Scientific Advisory Board, said doctors suggest the use of the masks if one’s immune system is low or is in an at-risk group for the outbreak, that is, if one is elderly or has heart and lung diseases.

Azap said people use the N95 masks because they think it "protects better," however, the masks are used in very special cases by the health personnel.

"We use it only in intensive care while caring for these patients; it is unnecessary for the citizen to use it under any circumstances.

"In order to use those special masks the medical staff are trained and educated, so it is important that the masks are worn properly," Azap said. "I see people wearing the N95 in planes and airports and I have never seen a single person wearing it right!"

Azap said due to the lack of masks, they are often reused for a few days and in some cases washed and worn again, which is the biggest invitation for infections. 

'It is not certain that virus will end with warmer weather'

Kilic said there was a perception that the virus will end when the weather gets warmer but that is not completely true.

"Previously we had also seen influenza, MERS and SARS and in the era of easy transportation, we always expect such diseases.

"In every three-to-five years it will make a peak, the viruses will mutate and infection in the remotest part of the world will surely reach us," she said.

She added that mobile phones should also be kept very clean because viruses can stick to them from six hours up to two days and once touched with dirty hands it could turn into a vicious circle.

Azap points out that cleaning phones a couple of times daily would be enough and to avoid contact with the face, headphones could be used.

"The amount of the virus is also important in this case because there is a really less possibility of getting ill by just one virus the amount of virus that needs to make somebody infected has to be more than that.

"There is no such data that shows us that cell phones are one of the sources of this epidemic, so there is no need to worry about it," he said.

The recovery process of COVID-19

Recovery from the virus is not that easy, Kilic said. 80% of young people improve from the virus easily; 10 - 15% feel like it is the flu and 5% have to be taken to intensive care units.

Azap says smokers are among the highest risk group.

He said 15% of patients recover with oxygen support, but there is still no cure and emphasized people recover from viruses on their own just like with a cold or the flu.

After emerging in Wuhan, China last December, the virus known as COVID-19, has spread to at least 141 countries and territories.

The global death toll from the virus has surpassed 5,700, with more than 152,000 cases confirmed worldwide, according to the World Health Organization.

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