|image sourced from ZidBits.|
The coronavirus is a cruel thing.
Although people infected with the deadly virus, also known as COVID-19, often show symptoms, there are others who can go about their day being asymptomatic and unknowingly spreading it to others.
But in the last few months since COVID-19 became a global pandemic, we're starting to see the benefits of wearing face masks to shield ourselves from infection.
While some governing bodies initially refuted the use of masks as a viable form of protection, like the World Health Organization (WHO) for example, people are steadily adopting the use of masks. And that's a good thing.
But as more people begin to adopt a 'new normal' in the age of the coronavirus, it's about time experts conducted studies on the effectiveness of masks.
Why? Because we all need something to lean on, as sad as that sounds.
A team of experts in Hong Kong recently tested the effectiveness of masks on hamsters, and the findings are promising.
|IMAGE: Science Mag|
The team, led by Professor Yuen Kwok-yung, artificially infected hamsters with the disease and placed them in a cage next to their healthy counterparts.
Naturally, one cage only housed the infected hamsters, while the other housed healthy ones.
The team then placed surgical masks between the two cages and directed airflow from the infected hamsters towards the healthy control group.
They later found that non-contact transmission could be reduced by more than 60 percent with the use of masks.
But they also found that two-thirds of the healthy hamsters were infected within just a week if no masks were used at all.
The hamsters that got infected with masks on their cage showed to have very little amounts of the virus in their bodies when compared to those infected without masks.
When comparing the use of masks on artificially infected hamsters and their healthy counterparts, the former saw infection rates plunge to just over 15 percent, while the latter experienced a 35 percent decrease in infection.
Speaking to reporters on May 17, Yuen stressed the importance of wearing face masks, especially among people who are infected.
"It's very clear that the effect of masking the infected, especially when they are asymptomatic – or symptomatic – it's much more important than anything else," says Yuen.
"It also explained why universal masking is important because we now have known that a large number of those infected have no symptom."
Yuen was also one of the first scientists to discover the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) virus back in 2003.
|Yuen Kwok-yung is a microbiologist and a leading expert on COVID-19. IMAGE: South China Morning Post|
With global infections reaching 8,098, SARS killed a total of 774 people worldwide. The majority of those deaths (roughly 300) were in Hong Kong, where Yuen is based.
With that field experience, Yuen was able to take early action in the current coronavirus pandemic, convincing the people of Hong Kong to adopt the use of masks.
It has been four months since Hong Kong detected its first confirmed COVID-19 case. But it has remained steady in containing the virus, dealing with just 1,000 infections and 4 deaths.
Considering Hong Kong's 7.5 million-strong population, the numbers are incredibly low.