Use of surgical face masks to reduce the incidence of the common cold among health care workers in Japan: A randomized controlled trial

Published:February 13, 2009DOI:


      Health care workers outside surgical suites in Asia use surgical-type face masks commonly. Prevention of upper respiratory infection is one reason given, although evidence of effectiveness is lacking.


      Health care workers in a tertiary care hospital in Japan were randomized into 2 groups: 1 that wore face masks and 1 that did not. They provided information about demographics, health habits, and quality of life. Participants recorded symptoms daily for 77 consecutive days, starting in January 2008. Presence of a cold was determined based on a previously validated measure of self-reported symptoms. The number of colds between groups was compared, as were risk factors for experiencing cold symptoms.


      Thirty-two health care workers completed the study, resulting in 2464 subject days. There were 2 colds during this time period, 1 in each group. Of the 8 symptoms recorded daily, subjects in the mask group were significantly more likely to experience headache during the study period (P < .05). Subjects living with children were more likely to have high cold severity scores over the course of the study.


      Face mask use in health care workers has not been demonstrated to provide benefit in terms of cold symptoms or getting colds. A larger study is needed to definitively establish noninferiority of no mask use
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