Effective mask use can significantly slow the spread of COVID-19, reduce the magnitude of the pandemic peak by flattening the curve, and reduce the prevalence of severe cases, a study has found. Researchers at McMaster University in Canada have developed a model to study COVID-19 “variolation” – an accidental but potentially beneficial form of immunization achieved by inhaling smaller doses of virus than would be inhaled without a mask.
They noted that a form of variolation was deliberately used in the 18th century to control smallpox. It involved infecting a healthy individual with small doses of the live virus taken from a dried scab or pustule of a person infected with smallpox.
According to the researchers, individuals with smallpox often suffered from much less severe disease than those who were naturally infected, but were immune to further infection. Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, it was suggested that people infected while masked might suffer mild illness and could be considered “pox”, they said.
The new mathematical model allows researchers to estimate the potential impact of this effect on the population as a whole. “If the variolation effect is strong, then the number of severe cases, and therefore the strain on health systems, could be significantly reduced if most people wear masks – even if masks do not prevent them from wearing masks. get infected,” the study said. lead author David Earn of McMaster University.
The study, published in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface, suggests that effective masking could significantly slow the spread of COVID-19, reduce the magnitude of the pandemic peak by flattening the curve, and reduce the prevalence of severe cases from of this moment. “Our qualitative findings are that the value of masking is underestimated in a public health setting, particularly as COVID-19 moves from pandemic to endemic, and we should think twice about getting rid of the mask mandates,” says Zachary Levine, lead author of the study and a former undergraduate student at McMaster.
“As we prepare for the next pandemic, understanding how different infection control strategies might affect disease dynamics could help us understand which policies are worth pursuing,” said Levine, who is now a student. graduated from the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel. The study findings are potentially applicable to any respiratory infection transmitted by inhaling infectious particles, the researchers said.
For future variants of COVID or other infectious diseases, the model can be used to study how the increase in the proportion of mild cases affects the overall dynamics of disease spread, they said. “If wearing a mask protects you in addition to those in the room around you, it could also have significant impacts for anyone who may not be in the room,” Levine added. .