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"We have learned over the last couple of months that there's another huge advantage of masking, which is that it also protects you," says Dr. Monica Gandhi, M.D.
Dr. Gandhi is an expert in infectious disease and global medicine. She and her colleagues compared data on groups practicing masking with other studies on virus behavior. They say the potentially game-changing benefit, is not just that masks can help prevent transmission, but what happens when they don't."
"Even if you happen to get a couple of viral particles in through a mask. You may get infected, but you're very likely to have mild or no symptoms at all. So it reduces the severity of disease to wear a mask," says Dr. Gandhi.
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First, it's important to understand that researchers have looked at virus outcomes in human and animal models for decades. And in the case of many viruses, how much you ingest matters. UCSF researchers believe a smaller viral load filtered through a mask could potentially give your body a head start and time to fight off the infection, and most importantly, develop immunity based on the data.
"If you get a little bit in, and you get infected you're unlikely to get sick you're just going to have mild symptoms or be asymptomatic," explains Dr. Gandhi.'
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The question now, what could that mean for populations at large, if we all wore masks?
While a vaccine is still key, researchers believe that less severe disease now could drive the overall population towards what's known as herd immunity, the tipping point where there are not enough carriers left for the virus to spread.
"And we may get closer to control of this virus through immunity, while we're waiting for a vaccine," Dr. Gandhi believes.
An outcome easily worth the inconvenience of covering up.
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