The Department of Health (DOH) confirmed today, January 30, 2020, the first case of the 2019 novel coronavirus (nCoV) in the country. According to reports, the 38-year-old woman who was infected with the virus is already admitted in an undisclosed government hospital in Metro Manila. (Read more about it here.)
Understandably, the news that the virus is in the Philippines has made citizens worried about their health and safety. Reports have come in that surgical masks are starting to sell out from drugstores — which begs the question: are surgical masks and particulate respirators enough to protect from the 2019 nCoV and is it safe for babies to wear one?
Surgical mask for baby
Dr. Faith Buenaventura-Alcazaren, a pediatric specialist at Stratum Health Partners in Centuria Medical Makati, says that there are a number of problems associated with placing N95 masks or particulate respirators on infants. “First, it is unlikely that there are masks tailored to fit well on the face of an infant and a very young child. Poor fit negates the protective function of a properly-worn mask,” she tells SmartParenting.com.ph.
“Second, breathing through a respirator mask is harder than breathing open air, which may pose breathing problems for infants,” she adds. “Third, it is unlikely to stay in place as they will constantly try to remove it.”
The doctor acknowledges that N95 masks give the best protection, but it is not completely necessary for public use. If you are really worried, surgical masks may be more helpful as it blocks large, liquid droplets and splatter from the wearer’s mouth and nose. It also protects other people against infection that may come from the wearer’s saliva and respiratory secretions.
“The [2019 nCoV] virus is spread through close, continuous contact with someone who is already infected, as opposed to getting exposed to a sick person passing by in corridors or on the street,” Dr. Buenaventura-Alcazaren shares. (The 2019 nCoV has a lower infectivity rate than that of measles, another highly contagious viral infection. Read about it here.)
Dr. Jay Ron Padua, FPPS, FPIDSP, a pediatric infectious disease specialist from the San Lazaro Hospital also recommends the use of surgical masks, but for adults. “It’s just [for] droplet precaution so [you can use] a regular mask and just stay three to six feet away [from people] then you are good,” he told Smart Parenting in a previous article.
Dr. Buenaventura-Alcazaren says surgical masks is more for people who have respiratory symptoms. “[They] should be sensitive enough to wear a mask in public if they are coughing or sneezing,” she says. “They should seek medical help immediately then stay home to rest if they feel ill.”
How to keep babies safe from viruses
Dr. Buenaventura-Alcazaren echoes safety measures provided by the DOH in preventing the spread of the 2019 nCoV: Frequent handwashing is still the most effective way to protect yourself and your babies against viruses.
“When an infected person coughs, droplets reach a surface. Another person touches it and unwittingly, this person touches his mouth. This is a more probable mode of transmission,” she explains.
As a precaution, the DOH also advises to avoid shaking hands, bussing cheeks, and even eating raw or uncooked food for now.
If you insist on letting your little one wear an N95 mask, Dr. Buenaventura says to remember these guidelines issued by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Respiratory protection will only be effective if the correct respirator is used, you know when and how to put it on and take it off, and you have stored it and kept it in working order in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions.
“Masks tailored for young children 3 years old and up may be used, but only if the mask fits well,” Dr. Buenaventura-Alcazaren says. “In hazardous air conditions, it is best to keep children indoors.”
READ MORE STORIES ON THE 2019 NOVEL CORONAVIRUS HERE: