Flu – It may not be aesthetically pleasing at first, but if wearing a facemask means greatly lowering your chances of contracting a virus, it just may become a welcome fashion statement. Not only that, but it could also save our health system millions of dollars, as well as lost time at work – costing both employers and employees money.
This season has been a particularly nasty one for the influenza virus, with the dominant strain H3N2 hitting thousands of Canadians hard, particularly children and the elderly. In fact, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada, as of the first week in February there have been close to 30,000 laboratory-confirmed cases of the flu in the country with more than 3,100 hospitalizations and 130 deaths.
The controversial flu vaccine has proven to be largely ineffective this season – being only 17% effective against a mutated H3N2 strain and only 55% per cent effective in the B/Yamagata strain.
Whether one chooses to take the flu vaccine or not, unless they have built an immunity against the particularly active strains of the year – everyone is just as susceptible to them. Which brings us back to the idea of wearing face masks, offering a protection that is simple and effective, not only against flu viruses but even the common cold.
Unfortunately in our ego driven society, there is a stigma about wearing masks in public. Seeing someone wearing one on the streets or at work, often makes one pause and perhaps move as far away as possible from them – wondering whether they are dealing with a potentially fatal, contagious disease. But what if they were actually just protecting themselves and others from diseases?
There has been an increase this season of people seen wearing the blue or yellow face masks in Montreal, more often within the public transit system. Perhaps these brave citizens have gotten their cue from some countries in Asia. It is very common in Japan to to see people wearing masks to prevent contracting or spreading of the flu, common cold or other viruses – passed on through breathing, saliva, coughing and sneezing. It makes complete sense to cover one’s mouth and nose, but here the knee-jerk reaction is negative and although sporting a mask might not ever be fashionable, it just may become an intelligent and perhaps trendy necessity.
Maybe it is time to re-think that. If we could get past the egocentric reaction, we might also find ourselves getting past the long hours spent waiting in clinics and hospital emergency rooms – and more importantly, lying in bed for days, even weeks with fever and boxes of kleenex nearby.
Wearing face masks when ill or during the flu season could prove to be one the most intelligent, simple and cost effective ways to keep us from getting sick and repeating the cycle over and over again – a cycle becoming more and more challenging to beat.
Would you consider wearing a mask in public if it meant being healthier?
Bonnie Wurst – firstname.lastname@example.org