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What are Influenza Masks?

By Alicia Sparks
Updated Jan 31, 2024
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Like a surgical mask, an influenza mask is a type of barrier worn over the mouth and nose to prevent the spread of influenza. Everyone concerned about contracting influenza can wear influenza masks, but the masks are especially important for people who have the illness as well as people who work in the health care and public sectors. Examples of such people include doctors, nurses, teachers, post office carriers and mail carriers, and even people who work in retail and sales. People can purchase influenza masks from most retail locations that sell medical supplies. If an area’s influenza outbreak is especially severe, community health organizations might even distribute masks for free.

Typically, influenza masks are similar to the kinds of surgical masks surgeons and other doctors already regularly wear to prevent the spread of germs, bacteria, and diseases. All influenza masks are designed for preventing influenza, but the specific purpose depends on who’s wearing the mask. For example, if an infected person is wearing the mask, the purpose is to stop the virus from traveling beyond the mask when the person exhales. If an uninfected person is wearing the mask, the purpose is to stop the virus from traveling beyond the mask when the person inhales. Oftentimes during an influenza outbreak, both infected and uninfected people will wear the masks.

In order to prevent the spread of influenza, people who have influenza or are working closely with people who have influenza should wear influenza masks. This is especially true for uninfected people who haven’t received the most current influenza vaccine, or “flu shot.” In addition to the patients themselves, this group of people includes all health care workers and the facilities’ office assistants. People who work in the public sector, such as teachers, retailers, and local government agencies, can wear influenza masks during an influenza outbreak. Also, anyone who needs to be out in the public for everyday tasks such as grocery shopping or visiting the post office can wear a mask to avoid contracting influenza.

Influenza masks are available at a wide variety of online and in-person locations. Health care workers might wear the surgical masks they already have in stock, which they order from their regular medical suppliers. Others can find these masks at local department stores. People who are unsure about the best kinds of influenza masks to purchase can talk with their health care providers for recommendations. Some community health care organizations might even distribute masks during an influenza outbreak.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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