Simple face masks worn by patients infected with tuberculosis may significantly reduce the transmission rates to non-infected patients, suggests study.
The study was conducted in a specialized airborne infections research facility in South Africa, which was designed to allow study of methods to control the spread of TB. Transmission rates were measured using healthy guinea pigs exposed to infected patients.
"We found that when infectious patients with multidrug resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) wore face masks while they were hospitalized, the face masks helped decrease the transmission of tuberculosis by 50 percent compared to when the patients did not wear face masks," said study author Ashwin Dharmadhikari, associate physician at Harvard Medical School's Brigham and Women's Hospital.
The masks may represent a simple way to reduce TB transmissions in areas with limited resources and widespread TB. "This is especially important when one thinks about the importance of protecting health care workers and other patients from getting TB when these vulnerable individuals might be in the same room as a TB patient," said Dharmadhikari.
The study will be presented at the ATS 2011 International Conference in Denver.