Do Masks Stop Swine Flu?

They’re everywhere in Mexico; U.S. officials don’t feel as strong about the preventative measure

In the face of a possible swine flu pandemic, the Mexican government has given out more than 6 million face masks. Stores have sold out of them. Relatives from the United States—especially border cities like San Diego—are sending boxes and boxes across the border. Some people are resorting to making their own masks.

Mexico’s president and health secretary have promoted the use of masks. But that’s not been the case in the United States. Experts at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say evidence is not very strong that masks will protect a wearer from getting swine flu.

The World Health Organization warns against putting too much faith in wearing a mask around anyone who might already be infected.

The WHO says the best reason for wearing a mask is to stop the spread of the disease if you already have it and must go out in public.

Other experts say wearing a mask can provide a psychological benefit, and act as a reminder to take precautions. If you need a mask to remind you to avoid bodily contact with others, cover your mouth when coughing and sneezing and to wash your hands frequently, so be it.  

But if designer masks—in cute colors, with spiffy logos or ones made of spun silk—start appearing on street corners or TV infomercials, buyer beware.

Ron Donoho, formerly executive editor of "San Diego Magazine," is a regular contributor to who covers local news, sports, culture and happy hours,

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