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Air Pollution And COVID-19: Is It About Time To Shift From Cloth Mask To Pollution Safe N95 Or N99 Mask?

A recent Harvard study has shown that people with COVID-19 who live in regions with high levels of air pollution are more likely to die from the disease than people who live in less polluted areas

Air Pollution And COVID-19 Is It About Time To Shift From Cloth Mask To Pollution Safe N95 Or N99 Mask
  • The number of COVID-19 cases is likely to rise with increase in pollution
  • Cloth masks offer only 30% hood against pollutants: Dr Mehta, Apollo
  • Surgical masks are not capable of filtering smaller particles: Dr Maurya

New Delhi: Come winters and the problem of air pollution especially in the national capital Delhi and neighbouring areas intensifies. This year, India has there is an added crisis – the Coronavirus pandemic. According to health experts, air pollution is likely to fuel COVID-19 pandemic resulting in an increase in cases. Explaining the link between the two, Dr Vikas Maurya, Director and Head of Pulmonology at Fortis Hospital in Delhi’s Shalimar Bagh said, “All respiratory viruses increase during winters and pollution, so it is quite obvious that the number of COVID-19 cases will increase with pollution. Smaller particles tend to attach themselves with the virus that stays in the air for a longer period of time. A recent Harvard study has also shown that people with COVID-19 who live in regions with high levels of air pollution are more likely to die from the disease than people who live in less polluted areas.”

Also Read: Air Pollution Leads To An Increase In COVID Deaths, According To Harvard University Study, Experts Say ’Pollution Can Hinder Country’s COVID Fight’

Dr Ravindra M Mehta, Senior Consultant and HOD – Pulmonology & Interventional Pulmonology at Apollo Speciality Hospitals in Jayanagar, Bengaluru further added, pollution is acting in consent with COVID-19. Talking about the upcoming danger, Dr Mehta said,

The virus will affect people in areas where there is greater pollution and pollution by itself can cause damage to the lungs.

One of the three basic COVID precautionary measures is wearing a face mask. According to the government guidelines, a homemade cloth based face mask can perform the job well and one doesn’t need to buy surgical masks or N95 or N99 masks. But is a cloth mask the right fit to battle the double whammy of COVID-19 and air pollution? Medical experts believe it’s time to move to other types of masks because cloth fails to block pollutants like particulate matter.

Explaining the level of protection provided by different kinds of masks, Dr Mehta said,

Cloth masks offer only 30 per cent hood against pollutants whereas surgical masks are 70 to 80 per cent effective. N95 masks without a valve can be worn to protect oneself against COVID-19 and air pollution.

Also Read: 73% Of Delhi-NCR Residents’ Family Members Are Facing Air Pollution Related Ailments, Experts Say The Number Will Rise

Though surgical masks are better than cloth masks, they only take care of larger particles. For filtration of smaller particles like particulate matter 2.5 (PM2.5) – tiny particles or droplets in the air that are two-and one-half microns or less in width – N95 and N99 masks are deemed right. The code 95 and 99 denote that the mask is capable of filtering 95 and 99 per cent of the particulate matter.

Dr Maurya said that if we had just air pollution, we could go for masks with a valve but, right now, since we have both COVID-19 and pollution, we need to choose masks without a valve. Further giving out the reason behind the same, Dr Samir Garde, Consultant Respiratory Medicine, Jaslok Hospital & Research Centre said,

Masks with valves may be protective for the one who wears but detrimental for the next person since the person wearing it can exhale viruses through it and the person next to him/her would be exposed to the infection.

Also Read: Spell Of Heavy Smog In Indian Capital Raises Fears For COVID-19 Patients

While giving out more details of the mask in terms of type and reusability, Vikas Bagaria, Founder, Pee Safe, a brand that manufactures anti-pollution masks, said,

Cloth masks and surgical masks are three layer masks. For pollution, a minimum of 5 ply mask with a filter in it is recommended. Each layer serves a different purpose – one filters dust particles, another absorbs extra moisture, gases, so on and so forth. N95 and N99 masks are reusable but not washable. Usually, the inner layer of the mask is white in colour so when that turns grey, you have to discard it. On average, you can use a mask for 30 days but remember you cannot wash it.

When asked whether one should wear a mask indoors, all four experts NDTV interviewed said ‘no’. Dr Maurya said that indoor air pollution not only depends on the outdoor air circulating inside but also on other factors like smoking in a room or using wood burning stove (Chulha). Both Dr Maurya and Dr Mehta said that if one takes care of indoor air and the sources of pollutants, then the level of air pollution will come down, and masks would not have to be recommended at that point.

Also Read: Study Estimates Exposure To Air Pollution Increases COVID-19 Deaths By 15 Per Cent Worldwide

NDTV – Dettol Banega Swasth India campaign is an extension of the five-year-old Banega Swachh India initiative helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. It aims to spread awareness about critical health issues facing the country. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (WaterSanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign highlights the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children to prevent maternal and child mortality, fight malnutrition, stunting, wasting, anaemia and disease prevention through vaccines. Importance of programmes like Public Distribution System (PDS), Mid-day Meal Scheme, POSHAN Abhiyan and the role of Aganwadis and ASHA workers are also covered. Only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and become a Swasth or healthy India. The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollutionwaste managementplastic banmanual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene


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