How Effective are Face Masks for Cancer Patients and Caregivers Against COVID-19?

by Team Onco
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In fewer than six months since it first began, the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) has affected more than 17 lakh people worldwide. By the time people knew how contagious the disease was, it had spread to almost every country in the globe. 

There have been measures taken by all governments to control the spread of the virus, and they are doing all they can to keep the incidence rates in check. This pandemic has brought in a sense of panic and unrest among people, and to aggravate the situation, there have been rumours and myths about the coronavirus disease widely circulated across the online channels. One of the popular topics of discussion is about the role of face masks in prevention of COVID-19.

For cancer patients and caregivers, it is very important to understand that cancer and its treatment may weaken the immunity, and are at a higher risk of contracting the coronavirus infection. It is hence imperative to understand the right information about the preventive measures to be taken. 

Here, in this article, let us understand the concerns you may have regarding the use of face masks, as a cancer patient or a caregiver.

 

Face masks, and the risks of COVID-19

As has been established that COVID19 is highly contagious and commonly spreads by aerosols that are released by coughing or sneezing by infected individuals. These aerosols (droplets of secretions carrying virus particles) fall on surfaces commonly touched by others or can be inhaled by others as they remain suspended in ambient room air and that’s how others may contract this infection.

People need to cover mouth and nose for 2 primary purposes-

  1. To prevent the generation of aerosols while coughing/sneezing.
  2. To prevent inhalation of aerosols suspended in air.

Face masks are mainly recommended when you have respiratory symptoms like cough or sneeze, and when you travel out in public places. Citing the highly contagious nature of the disease, face masks are mainly advised so that the infection spread is controlled. 

For caregivers of cancer patients, it is important that you wear masks whenever interacting with your ward, as a precaution. Wear masks whenever you are outside your home, or at public places. Change your masks frequently, and ensure safe disposal of the old ones. 

Not just the face masks, other recommended preventive measures against the coronavirus disease should also be ensured.

For routine use at home (when going near the patient) or in public spaces, we can use folded clothes to cover our mouth and nose and we do not need a medical/surgical mask for protection till the time we are following social distancing.

Face masks during cancer treatment

For people who may need to travel to hospitals and treatment centres, it is advisable to wear masks whenever out of home –  throughout your travel, and even during the treatment if possible. For instance, if you are undergoing an IV chemotherapy treatment, you can continue to wear masks unless your doctor asks you to remove them.

 

What face masks are recommended?

A simple surgical face mask or folded cloth will be effective to block droplets from a person’s cough or sneeze that may contain germs like virus or bacteria, from entering your mouth or nose. A surgical mask or one made out of folded cloth is a loose-fitting, disposable wear that creates a physical barrier between potential contaminants in the surrounding environment and the body.

 

How to use them?

The most important part to keep in mind to ensure effective utilisation of face masks, is to know how to use them. Here are some steps you can follow –

  • Clean your hands with soap and water (for 20 seconds) or alcohol-based sanitisers before wearing a mask
  • Make sure your nose and mouth are covered by the mask and there should be no space between them
  • Avoid touching your mask when you are wearing them, and if you do so, sanitise your hands with soap and water or a hand-rub
  • While removing the mask, remove it from the back of your head and make sure you don’t touch the face of the mask
  • Dispose the masks after each use in a closed bin and do not reuse them. Sanitise your hands post disposal
  • Do not use face masks that are wet

If you used folded cloth, ensure following precautions:

  • The cloth should be dry and clean.
  • Make multiple layered folding of the cloth before tieing the cloth.
  • Drop the cloth for washing after returning from outside.
  • Do not touch the outer surface of cloth with your hands.
  • Wash your hands with soap after removing the cloth.

The main idea behind the recommendations of face masks is to reduce the risk of infecting others or to decrease the possibility of catching the coronavirus infection. If you are in a travel or in an outside environment that you don’t know of, it is advisable to wear masks and stay safe during such a critical time.

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