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Cold, Flu, & Cough Health Center

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Swine Flu (H1N1) and Face Masks

When and how to use face masks in home and community settings.

Who Should Wear Face Masks During a Swine Flu Pandemic?

  • Wear a face mask (consider using an N95 respirator) if you must come into close contact with a sick person. "Close contact" means within 6 feet.
  • Wear an N95 respirator if helping a sick person with a nebulizer, inhaler, or other respiratory treatment.
  • If you've got the flu, wear a face mask before going near other people.
  • If you've got the flu and must leave home -- to see the doctor, for example -- wear a face mask.
  • If you are well, but live in a household with someone who has the flu, wear a face mask before going near other people. Why? You may be infected with the flu bug but don't yet have symptoms.
  • If swine flu is widespread in your community, you may consider wearing a face mask when in crowded settings.

How to Use a Face Mask During a Swine Flu Pandemic

  • Don't rely on a face mask as your only protection. Avoid crowds, avoid close contact with sick people, and wash your hands often -- even if you wear a mask. And to protect others if you're sick, observe cough/sneeze etiquette and stay home.
  • Before putting on a face mask, wash your hands thoroughly.
  • Don't touch the outside of the face mask while you're wearing it or when you take it off.
  • Use disposable face masks only once, then -- holding them by the bands or ties, not the front of the mask -- throw them in the trash. Don't let the used mask touch anything else.
  • After taking off a face mask, wash your hands thoroughly.
  • Before reusing a fabric face mask (note that these are NOT approved by the FDA), wash it in normal laundry detergent and tumble dry in a hot dryer.

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Reviewed on August 10, 2009

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