A paper entitled, “Respiratory virus shedding in exhaled breath and efficacy of face masks” (1) published in April 2020 is a good study of just how effective face masks are; and the key limitation they have. It was a big study with 246 patients. They took a nasal swab, a throat culture, and then an exhaled breath sample and looked for seasonal coronavirus (not CoV-2 but the common colds cousin), influenza virus, and the true common cold virus, the rhinovirus (Rhino is “Greek to me” for nose). The results are encouraging.
The percent of patients with any of the three viruses decreased with a mask for both the big droplets that don’t travel too far as well as the small aerosols that travel a great distance. To pay my dues to the statistician, only the situations in bold were “significant,” meaning that if I did this experiment twenty times it would come out this way 19 times. But when I see a number go down (and because I am an optimist) I simply tell myself if I had just studied more patients these numbers would be significant as well.
Now look at that common cold virus, the rhinovirus; what do you think is going on there? Well if you guessed it was a super small virus you would be right! If I told you that SARS-CoV-2 was suddenly the size of a soccer ball how big do you think is the common cold virus? About the size of a tennis ball. So the next time you see some toddler walking around crying, with a red nose pouring like a firehose, just imagine its tennis balls flowing out and stand clear!
The above information is a yes/no is it found or is it not kind of experiment. But these good scientists went further. They also measured the actual number of virus particles, to get a sense of just how good a mask can be, with numbers. The Text=Table below shows the results of the experiment.
First, the nose and throat swab give you a sense of what is going on. The difference in the nose virus load and the throat is partly a timing issue, since the infection starts in the nose and only later as it spreads does it get into the throat. But there is a filtering effect and a defensive effect going on as well. Here’s an unsettling statistic: you make about 1.5 liters (50 ounces) of nasal mucous per day. Why? Because it is like the lava field in one of the Ice Age movies, where Sid, the sloth, is floating toward a cliff where the lava falls off into oblivion. In our nose, the virus is Sid and the cliff is our throat and esophagus. Very few viruses survive getting swept off the back of the nose and dropped into the hydrochloric acid bath of the stomach!
So hat’s off to the nose for getting the numbers down by a factor of 1,000 or more. The next numbers are from the air we breathe out. Repeating, these are not sneezes, where in the right light you can actually see the droplets and aerosol! This is just quiet breathing. The kind people do in restaurants, movie theatres, church, and the mall.
Without masks there are a lot of virus particles that go a few feet (droplets) or up to 27 feet (an aerosol under perfect conditions). Now, the black line shows what a simple surgical face mask (nothing fancy) does in this same setting. Seasonal coronavirus; nothing, not in droplets, and importantly, in aerosols. For clarity, this is a cousin of CoV-2 which is about the same overall size!
No wonder the CDC wanted to be sure we didn’t run out of face masks for the doctors and medical staff during the early phase of the pandemic. For influenza and that pesky rhinovirus, it isn’t perfect but it is still really good. And it is still way better than no mask at all.
The aerosol data for the rhinovirus was weird. For half of the patients there were no, zero, rhinoviruses. And for the other half it seemed to be useless compared with the no mask folks. My untested theory is that the patients with high virus loads to begin with (those with 100 million in the nasal swab, for example) in their exhaled breathe were the ones who were breaking through.
So in this one experiment, a simple surgical face mask could start with a patient with 100 million virus particle on a simple swab (I have no idea what getting 100 million virus particles on a swab means in terms of the total virus load a patient has) and over 1,000 in every exhaled breath of air, and “sterilize” their breath.
My COVID-19 Book Publishes June 5, 2020 on Amazon Kindle!
My book entitled, Your COVID-19 Survival Manual: A Physician’s Guide to Keep You and Your Family Healthy During the Pandemic and Beyond, will be published as an Amazon Kindle book on June 5, 2020, and will provide my blueprint for how to move beyond this pandemic safely for you and your family. Before anyone decides to return to life outside the shelter, please read my book. It might save your life!
This book is chock-full of lifesaving tips you can’t find anywhere else to help you and your family stay safe while sheltering-in-place, as well as how to get back to life in the coming weeks and months.
• One 2-minute step you can take every time you come home to kill Coronavirus before it enters your lungs
• A, quick, free home test for COVID-19 that is as good as the FDA-approved nasal swab
• The one exercise you won’t learn in the gym that can save your life
• How NOT to die of COVID-19 (Make your lungs younger)
• What to do if you have early stage COVID-19 so that you can stay out of the hospital
• The #1 most effective way to prevent the spread of coronavirus as we reopen society (Hint: it’s the one thing the CDC said was “NOT effective” when coronavirus hit the U.S.)
• Why a vaccine won’t be the solution, and what YOU can do to protect yourself, now and in the future
• What to eat and drink (and what to avoid) so you can prevent and beat this coronavirus
• The best supplements I have found from clinical trial research for immune health during this pandemic
• The coronavirus’ “Diabolic Trait” and how it helped the virus spread so fast
• An easy DIY step that takes your face mask from a viral barrier to a virus killer, giving you over 100-times the protection of an untreated mask
• The one blood test to ask for if you are hospitalized that can keep you off a ventilator
• Three steps to take to thrive during the next epidemic
• What is gain-of-function research and why we must ban it to prevent future pandemics
It will be available on Amazon Kindle for $4.99 starting June 5. The proceeds will be shared with Team Rubicon, a non-profit organization that serves communities by mobilizing veterans to continue their service, leveraging their skills and experience to help people prepare, respond, and recover from disasters and humanitarian crises.
You can get more information on my Amazon author page: www.amazon.com/author/stevenquay