Author: John V. Schloss, PhD, Professor and Chair, Department of Pharmaceutical Science, American University of Health Sciences

The argument over face masks has been with us for a long time. Back in 1910, a deadly type of pneumonia broke out in the Chinese city of Manchouli and quickly spread to Harbin. A young Oxford-educated doctor, Wu Lien-Teh, determined that the disease was a new form of Yersinia Pestis, commonly called the plague, that could be spread by aerosols or sputum. A French doctor, Gérald Mesny, challenged Dr. Wu’s conclusion. Although Dr. Wu had introduced face masks to slow the spread of the plague, Dr. Mesny refused to wear a mask, while investigating the disease. As a result, Dr. Mesny died from the plague. Dr. Wu went on to be the first Chinese doctor to be nominated for the Nobel Prize in Medicine.1

A recent meta-analysis published in The Lancet has estimated the close contact transmission rate for COVID-19 to be about 17%. Use of a face mask can reduce the transmission rate to 3%.2

1. Ma Z, Li Y (1916) Dr. Wu Lieh-Teh, plague fighter and father of the Chinese public health system, Protein & Cell 7:157-158.
2. Chu DK, et al. (2020) Physical distancing, face masks, and eye protection to prevent person-to-person transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19: a systematic review and meta-analysis, The Lancet 395(10242):1973-87.

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