Do masks protect you from the coronavirus and flu?

Expert insight:

Surgical masks don’t create airtight seals; rather, they leave tiny gaps between fabric and skin, says Stephen Gluckman, MD, director of international travel medicine at the Perelman Center for Advanced Medicine and a professor of medicine at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

Wearing one will not shield you from the coronavirus. Those particles are small enough to sneak through the openings and past the fabric, he says.

Flu particles are much larger and may have a harder time penetrating the mask—but still, the CDC does not endorse masks as prevention because other measures (listed below) are so much more effective.

The bottom line:

To steer clear of infection, Gluckman recommends getting your flu shot and disinfecting your desk once a day, especially if other people are touching it, since viruses often hang out surfaces.

And when you're in public, avoid touching your face, says Kathryn Boling, MD, a primary care provider affiliated with Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore. Afterwards, wash your hands or use sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol. "That's going to give you much more protection than wearing a mask."

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