General Question

Dog's avatar

In Asia if you are not feeling well it is polite to wear a paper mask in public to avoid contaminating others. Does it help and why don't we do this in other countries?

Asked by Dog (24428 points ) March 13th, 2011

People seem unwilling or unable to stay home or away from others when they are sick and it seems like covering your mouth is too much effort for most.

Yes I would wear one. Yes my kids would think it was fun.

Are we that vain as a people that our looks come before the health of others?

Most importantly does it help in Asia? Does anyone know?

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29 Answers

Coloma's avatar

Absolutely, totally acceptable.
I traveled in Asia this time last year and many, many, people wore masks.
Partly because of potential illness but also, because of the pollution factors in the big cities.
I’d say one out of every 3–4 wore masks, especially in the metro stations.

Much more so than anything I have ever seen in America or anywhere else.

RubyB's avatar

It helps in the spread of germs, but I just saw a photo of an elderly Japanese woman with nothing but the clothes on her back, surrounded by scientists in fully protected body suits with masks using a meter to measure radioactivity on the elderly, exposed woman. Without doubt those flimsy masks won’t do much more for those doomed people than filter some of the smoke and irritants.

Yes, I do believe Americans are that vain as a society. How things and people look has come before everything but their wallets. There are very few in our society who actually consider how their actions, (in this case going out in public when you’re contagious, and worse, not even bothering to cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze), will affect anyone else. We have become a “the hell with you what about me” society.

So back to Japan, how many Americans realize, that just as the ocean currents very quickly carried the tsunami to our western shores, the air currents are quickly bringing us the radiation. The American attitude carries all the way to not understanding that our Earth is one body. If the right arm is mangled beyond recognition and gangrene results, it not only affects the rest of the body, it will in time destroy it.
What happened in Japan is coming our way and it’s a hell of a lot more serious than the spread of germs. What are we going to wear to avoid this contamination, and how we will protect our water systems and fields from it?

gasman's avatar

For contagious respiratory illnesses that are spread by droplets, the mask makes sense to avoid infecting others.

Some people erroneously believe that a simple face mask can protect you (by filtration) from inhaling bacteria, viruses, or other airborne toxins. This is foolish.

Dog's avatar

@RubyB Welcome to Fluther! Please ask the question about radiation as a new question. it will be a good one!

I would like to focus on the common cold and flu on this one.

marinelife's avatar

It would help if you were coughing or sneezing. But why should you be out if you were in that condition?

Response moderated (Off-Topic)
Dog's avatar

@marinelife It would be great if people did stay home but the don’t. They send their kids to school sick and go to work sick. Perhaps they have no other choice. We have had a series of colds circulating in our house for 3 months. My kids have collectively lost three weeks of school. Every time they go back they bring home a new one. We had the flu shots too. I wish everyone sick would wear a mask here. :( I am so sick of sickness.

Again all- this is NOT about radiation. We are talking about common illness and common curtesy.

Response moderated (Off-Topic)
Coloma's avatar

Sick people exposing others is one of my biggest pet peeves as well.
I have one friend who is notorious for this, she tells you after the fact, ( getting together, whatever ) that she is sick. Grrr!

Typhoid Mary is alive and well. lol

Response moderated (Off-Topic)
Dog's avatar

Allow me to clarify one last time that when I say “not feeling well” in the title of this question is is referring to common illness. I am not opening up the discussion to radiation, mustard gas, smoke inhalation, the apocalypse, leporacy, Dengue fever, rattlesnake bite or reefer madness.

Seriously if you have nothing on topic to contribute please move on and don’t derail this question.

JLeslie's avatar

I love that people did this when I was visiting Japan. I remember a Q here on fluther where a jelly was saying how ridiculous people look with masks on, so paranoid they will get sick. I explained in parts of Asia the sick wear a mask to protect the not sick. Some people, in all countries, might wear a mask because they are immunocompromised and need extra protection from disease; but that is kind of a different topic. Still, my point is yes, there is too much vanity in Amercia, and stigma about being germaphobic. Sick people feel they still need to do their life, and also many of those sick people do not use caution about contagious disease, so they don’t bother to be cautious about infecting you.

H1N1 was like a gift in some ways to me, because for a year people were a little more paranoid about getting sick.

I would love for the culture here in America to be to wear a mask if you are sick. Be aware to have your hands washed if you need to be in a public place and you are sick. To bow instead of shaking hands.

A couple of weeks ago I had lunch at a very nice restaurant and the manager was at the front thanking people for dining with them for lunch and reaching out his hand for a shake. That kind of pisses me off. He is shaking everyones hands – no thank you. For Christmas the grocery store manager was at the front thanking people for shopping there, extending his hand for a shake – again, no thank you. A few years ago at Ft. lauderdale airport when I walked up to Enterprise rent a car the girl behind the desk shook my hand – why?! Why am I shaking the hand of someone during flu season who is interacting with people all over the world? Some young person who is not even in a position where a hand shake is normal, necessary, or appropriate. I actually shook all their hands, but if I had become sick in three days I would have had enormous regret, blaming myself for giving into some sort of pressure to comply.

KatawaGrey's avatar

Recently, I have been dealing with this issue myself. I have been sick now for almost three weeks but I simply cannot miss any more school. Most of my professors have a mandatory attendance policy so if I miss more than a certain number of classes, I fail the class. With my job, it’s much easier because I can easily give my shifts away but even then, if I can’t give my shift away, I have to go or else I lose the job. In the case of my classes, I can get an “excused” absence. For some professors, an e-mail before class telling them that I am sick is enough for me to get an excused absence but for most, I need some kind of proof, whether it is a doctor’s note or appropriate equivalent. However, I am not sick enough to need to go to the doctor or, I wasn’t until a few days ago, when I did go.

As for why I don’t wear masks, a small part of it is vanity, yes, but they are also extremely uncomfortable for me. Also, with the kind of sickness I have, I need to have free access to my mouth and nose because I have been coughing and my nose has been running like a faucet. When I see someone excepting my mom and my boyfriend who don’t mind if I get them sick :P I don’t hug them and I don’t touch them. I don’t share my drink with them and vice versa and I always let them know that I am sick as soon as we get together so they know to keep their distance. I cover my coughs and my sneezes either with my elbows never with my hand or with a tissue. If I can’t do either for some reason, I face away from people and angle my head towards the ground.

Response moderated (Off-Topic)
Response moderated (Off-Topic)
ParaParaYukiko's avatar

Asian countries like China and Japan are very densely populated. If you’ve ever been on a Japanese subway, you’ll know how ridiculous it is. Therefore, the society there is extremely respectful to other people’s personal space. Wearing masks is a way of being respectful of others, whether or not it actually does inhibit the spread of germs.

Historically, in countries like the US and western Europe, overpopulation was not much of a problem. Each family had a large field and farm to call their own, with significant distance between them and their neighbors. Thus, there was much less need to be respectful of other people’s property. Even though we have very densely populated cities today, that attitude hasn’t really changed.

There is also the matter of whether society is focused on the individual or the whole. In Asian countries, most societies place extreme importance on the family, the country, the greater good. Individual needs and desires are not considered as important. Whereas in America and many western countries, the individual is paramount; we all want to ultimately do what is best for ourselves. Not that any way is wholly right or wrong: too much individual importance leads to lack of respect and civility, but too little leads to a harmful group mentality seen in WWII Japan as well as unhappiness for individuals who feel like their lives are unimportant.

Personally, I’ve worn masks from time to time, but they can be uncomfortable and unpleasant to wear. However, if as a society it was normal and expected to wear a mask, I certainly would do it more often. It’s hard to introduce a concept such as wearing masks when one is sick when it is so foreign to that culture. However, if there was a large-scale effort promoting the use of masks when one is sick, I’m sure it would catch on eventually.

augustlan's avatar

[mod says] Please remember: This question is in the General Section. Responses must be helpful and on-topic.

JLeslie's avatar

@ParaParaYukiko it would be a difficult cultural shift I think in the US. People didn’t give a shit about spreading the flu until the media scared the hell out of them during H1N1 about catching it themselves, protecting themselves. I think here people would get all paranoid you have the plague or something.

@dog I’m not sure if it helps more or not. Probably it does I would think. If anything it signals to others you are sick, and they can be sure to wash their own hands before touching their face or their children if they must handle something the sick person has touched. I am kind of germaphobic around sick people and I get sick much much less than my husband and friends. I have enough health problems to not think it is just that I have a superfantastic immune system.

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

I’ve tried to wear a mask. People got really, really scared; it was as if I was wearing a hazmat suit with a gas mask and holding an AK-47. They assume that you’re so sick that you should really be quarantined.

I think the reason we don’t stay home is that you’re seen as weak instead of courteous. You’re too much of a pansy to deal with a teeny little cold. Our society revolves around work and hardship. Working is “easy”, having a cold is “easy”, and you have to earn respect by purposefully making life harder for yourself to prove your character and disposition.

Cruiser's avatar

They don’t wear masks because of germs as much as it is because of the pollution. Those white masks are rendered almost useless after 30–45 minutes because of the moisture from exhaling. They are only meant to protect the wearer for short durations. Plus most are not N-95 certified masks which are the ones that will protect you from germs. You may as well wear a bandanna or T-shirt over your face.

JLeslie's avatar

@MyNewtBoobs Good point that Americans basically brag abut never missing a day of work, even dragging themselves in when they are sick.

When I flew to Japan the airline gave everyone a mask along with some other nice toiletries. They said the mask helps to keep you moisturized so your throat does not dry out. It was a thin paper mask. I used it.

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

@JLeslie Exactly. “I’ve never missed a day of work in 15 years!” Well, maybe you should have.

That sounds nice. I wish all airlines would do that.

Rarebear's avatar

Sort of. It will work for awhile until it gets saturated and then its effectiveness will be decreased. Also, masks only stop droplets unless they’re N95 masks, in which case they will filter out much smaller particles.

mattbrowne's avatar

It’s a cultural phenomenon and in most cases not very effective.

lonelydragon's avatar

I agree that people should stay home when they’re ill, but most people don’t because they don’t want to be penalized for missing work, which is understandable. I would imagine that a paper mask would be too thin to be truly effective, but perhaps if it were made from plastic, cardboard, or styrofoam, it would be less prone to oversaturation from the moisture in one’s breath.

@JLeslie Love the idea of bowing to each other instead of shaking hands, or maybe we could even fist bump as comedian Howie Mandell once suggested, though I can’t imagine Miss Manners and corporate culture accepting those substitutes as good etiquette. Not sure exactly why. IMO it would be more polite to try to keep illness to oneself.

arrow's avatar

It is a good idea and anything would help,, but in the U.S. its vanity,, my wife wore one after leaving the hospital in Seattle and on the way home via ferry we were stared at like we had the plague and no one would sit close by..but we prefer to be safe other than look our best..

Dr_C's avatar

Most people don’t have access to masks that are rated for virus, bacteria or particulates. Sure they’ll cut down on the amount of spittle one sprays around… but not much else.

ParaParaYukiko's avatar

@Dr_C It’s still a nice gesture, practical/effective or not.

Dr_C's avatar

@ParaParaYukiko I don’t dispute that it’s a nice, considerate gesture. I was commenting on the portion of the original question that asked if it was actually effective.

Being considerate goes a long way! (but in the case of masks, not terribly useful).

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