Influenza viruses circulate around the world every year. From time to time new strains emerge and cause global pandemics. Many national and international health agencies recommended the use of face masks during the 2009 influenza A (H1N1) pandemic. We reviewed the English-language literature on this subject to inform public health preparedness. There is some evidence to support the wearing of masks or respirators during illness to protect others, and public health emphasis on mask wearing during illness may help to reduce influenza virus transmission. There are fewer data to support the use of masks or respirators to prevent becoming infected. Further studies in controlled settings and studies of natural infections in healthcare and community settings are required to better define the effectiveness of face masks and respirators in preventing influenza virus transmission.
(Accepted December 16 2009)
(Online publication January 22 2010)