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Moisture created inside the mask helps in fighting COVID-19 – Study

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Researchers from the National Institute of Health have identified that the humidity generated inside of a mask may help us tackle respiratory illnesses including the coronavirus disease.

Masks have been the earliest ways of defending ourselves from the coronavirus attack. Experts have discovered yet another advantage of this little guard. Experts from the National Institute of Health have identified that the humidity generated inside the mask may help us tackle respiratory illnesses like that of COVID-19.

The research was carried out under the experts from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). The institute is a part of the National Institute of Health, United States. The study published in the Biophysical Journal suggested that the masks increase the humidity in the air that is inhaled by the wearer. This can help us in understanding the correlation between wearing masks and low levels of infection in individuals infected by SARS-COV-2. The humidity hydrates the respiratory tract which is observed to be beneficial for the immune system.

Adriaan Bax, PhD, NIH Distinguished Investigator, and lead author of the study said: “We found that face masks strongly increase the humidity in the inhaled air and propose that the resulting hydration of the respiratory tract could be responsible for the documented finding that links lower COVID-19 disease severity to wearing a mask.”

He further explained that rising humidity has been found to suppress the acuteness of the flu. Similar action may tackle the degree of coronavirus infection too.

High levels of humidity can restrict the virus from the spread in the lungs through Mucociliary Clearance (MCC), a process that clears the mucus, and the harmful particles within. The humidity can also strengthen the immunity by producing interferons and promoting the mechanism known as interferon response. On the contrary, low levels of humidity can weaken both the mechanisms – MCC and the interferon response. This chain of cause and effect can be a potential reason for a greater number of infections during winters.

As a part of the study, four commonly used masks were tested namely N95 masks,  three-ply disposable surgical masks, two-ply cotton-polyester masks, and a heavy cotton mask. The humidity was measured by letting a volunteer exhale into a steel box that is sealed. The water vapor of such (without a mask) breath occupied the box resulting in rising levels of humidity within the box.

On wearing a mask, the humidity built inside the box reduced significantly. The masks were appropriately tied using a high-density foam rubber to keep a check on the leakage. The temperature of the air was measured thrice and counted from 46 to 98 degrees Fahrenheit. Thus,  all four masks raised the humidity of the air that was inhaled at different degrees.

Bax explained: “The increased level of humidity is something most mask-wearers probably felt without being able to recognize, and without realizing that this humidity might be good for them.”

The researchers did consider which masks are most efficient against the virus being inhaled or transmitted and turned to the CDC for advice on selecting a mask.

Earlier research by Bax and his peers showed that any cloth mask can help restrict the thousands of saliva particles produced by individuals that float in the air. Although respiratory droplets were not investigated in the current study, there is more evidence as to why masks are necessary for combating COVID-19.

NIDDK Director Dr. Griffin P. Rodgers stated, “Even as more people nationwide begin to get vaccinated, we must remain vigilant about doing our part to prevent the spread of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.” He also added that this study emphasizes the significance of wearing masks as a “simple yet effective” way of protecting ourselves and others from a respiratory infection.

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