In the past few months,there’s been a strange new fascination in the west in surgical masks being worn outside the operating theatre.
Masks haven’t always been used in medicine. Surgical masks have only been used for just over 100 years. (see below)Before then, it was more common to survive surgery and die from infection than it is today.
Now as then, standard surgical masks(also called medical, face & procedure masks) don’t protect the wearer from catching anything nasty. They do stop germs from being passed on. That is what they are designed to do.
Frenchman Paul Berger cited as the first doctor to have used a surgical mask in 1897 understood this at the time. He said:
For several years I have been worried as to the part that drops of liquid projected from the mouth of the operator or his assistants may exercise on the outbreaks of infection which one still sees from time to time under conditions of surgical asepsis which are apparently satisfactory.”
The Nurse in The Surgical Mask blog post suggests the medical profession accept this fact. However, it is still important to keep using them for the sake of both patient and medical professionals. So what could be other reasons for wearing face masks?
Asia’s use of face masks
The custom of face mask-wearing in Asia commenced around the beginning of the 20th century. First, there was a bubonic plague outbreak. Then not long after, the Spanish flu pandemic killed millions of people around the world. In 1923, the Great Kanto earthquake caused the air quality to drop for the best part of a year, prompting people to cover their faces.
Nowadays in the far east, it’s many seen as a courtesy that you will cover your nose and mouth if you have a cold, allergies or flu.
There’s also a strong culture among Asian youth of covering the face with funky, playful masks as fashion accessories.
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