Uh-oh, I thought masks were supposed to be harm free. This study would suggest not. It comes from a University in Spain and involved a survey of 306 health care workers in a tertiary care hospital. (Medrxiv Paper) 80% used surgical masks and 20% used filtering masks, like an N95. 51.6% of the workers reported developing a new headache associated with wearing a mask. Use of a filtering mask was more likely to be associated with a headache. The median number of days on which a headache developed was about half in a month or a week. The headaches tended to last for hours. Many subjects reported difficulty concentrating as a result of the headaches. The authors summarized some of the other research that suggests that mask wearing can reduce oxygen content and increase CO2, which could lead to headaches. Health care workers almost certainly need to wear masks, at least when treating coronavirus patients, but it is foolish to ignore concerns about a potential impact on their ability to do their jobs effectively.
Here is some serious research I would like to see done on masks. One is a study of regular mask wearers, particularly at work, and the effect on oxygen and CO2 concentrations. The second is a study of infectious agents on masks after wearing–what accumulates, what happens to it on and in the mask, and what are the possible health effects.
Okay, more mask research, this one a study of various types of masks typically worn by the public. (Science Article) The researchers built a special piece of equipment to mimic speech, sneezing and coughing and see what happened to droplets with the different mask type. 14 different masks, some sold, some made, were tested. N95 and surgical masks performed best in terms of relative number of droplets and absolute droplet count. Fleece was worse than no mask and bandanas almost as bad. The rest were in-between. There was a limit to the size of the droplet that could be detected, and small aerosols were likely missed. We need more research that uses real human beings to test the effect on inhaling or exhaling particles, including full studies of airflow in real untrained humans wearing masks they way they normally do. I keep pointing out the basic statistics that even if a mask stopped 90% of infections that would otherwise occur, one in every ten exposures will result in infections.
At least we are starting to see more information leak out, because it certainly won’t be promoted by the states, on the bad health effects of the responses to the epidemic. The National Institutes of Health director on his blog described the information they are receiving regarding the increase in overdoses. (NIH Blog) Compared to the same months last year, overdoses rose 18% in March, 29% in April and 42% in May. Many of those resulted in deaths, largely of younger people. If you isolate and scare the crap out of people, and limit their access to support systems and care, what do you think is going to happen.
And now, the really interesting piece of prior research for the day. Where are viruses and bacteria–only in animal hosts, or floating around more generally, and how far can they travel? This study, in a specialized journal and published two years ago, before the pandemic, tracked infectious agents just embedded in the general atmosphere. Kind of scary and fascinating. (Microbio. Article) They found that aerosolization of dust particles and sea spray facilitated the long range transport of infectious agent particles, particularly viruses, and that some of these viruses remain viable over those long distances. The researchers then studied deposition rates in the high Sierra Nevada mountains of Spain for viruses and bacteria in wet and dry particles. In each square meter of collection area, tens of millions of bacteria and billions of virus was deposited every day. And you think you can suppress coronavirus?