Should I wear a flu mask to protect myself from the flu?

Answers from James M. Steckelberg, M.D.

It can't hurt and it might help. Some studies have shown that using a surgical mask can help prevent influenza. And using a surgical mask and an alcohol-based hand sanitizer was shown to reduce the number of influenza-like illnesses in a group of students living in a college dormitory even more than using a surgical mask alone.

People who live in community housing — such as college dorms, nursing homes or military barracks — are at higher risk of influenza infection because they're in contact with more potentially infected people.

Flu viruses travel through the air in droplets when someone with the infection coughs, sneezes or talks. You can inhale the droplets directly, or you can pick up the germs from an object — such as a telephone or computer keyboard — and then transfer them to your eyes, nose or mouth.

Flu masks may help block airborne germs, and they may also prevent the transmission of germs from your hands to your mouth or nose. However, the best way to prevent influenza is to receive the flu vaccine, either via an injection or nasal spray.

Jan. 21, 2014 See more Expert Answers