As I lay in the dentist's chair today, hopefully protected from bacterial infections by my antibiotic prophylactic, I watched the occasional fireworks as fine droplets, expelled when I talked, sparkled in the strong light above my head. This prompted me to ask the protectively masked and visored dental hygienist, "how long had it been since face masks became standard dental wear?". She couldn't remember, but said it had been at least 10 years, and my dentist could remember that forty years ago dentists didn't even wear latex gloves when doing fillings.
Face masks became more common in Australia with the H1N1 flu epidemic and there's a box of them prominently displayed for use where I get my blood tests done. I'm also asked to use hand gel wash before entering the room to be stuck in the arm. Hand gel wash bottles are also commonly seen at entrances to doctor's rooms here, but unfortunately I don't see them used much. You are also requested to ask for a mask while waiting for the doctor if you have a cough. Good etiquette when you coughed or sneezed was to cover your mouth with your hand - and then shake hands. Thankfully it is becoming more common to cough or sneeze into your elbow. Very slowly, we are adopting simple, low cost techniques to reduce the spread of infections.
To be effective, a surgical or procedure face mask, needs fine pores to filter out droplet borne viral and bacterial particles. This degree of filtering means it is much easier for air to get through any gaps between the mask edge and your face than to travel through the mask, so you need to mould the mask around your face and pinch the metal strip against your nose to improve the seal. If your mask doesn't fit well, then you are largely inconveniencing yourself for little benefit. Even a well fitted mask is still only about an 85% effective barrier, but that 85% could be the difference between life and death for us. If you wear glasses, look for the anti-fogging variety, particularly during colder seasons.
I now also wear a dust mask when handling potting mix (and dampen the potting mix if it's dry) after hearing of a CLL mate being admitted to Emergency with a raging fever the night after using potting mix without a mask.
I notice Brian Koffman is preparing for a masked "ball of a time" * on his trip to the Emerald Isle. Why aren't more of us doing it in this heightened flu risk season?
I'd be interested to hear from around the world about how common procedure mask wearing is, suggestions for the differences and ideas on what we can do to improve society's health. As John says in the first referenced article below about how common mask wearing is in Japan: "I wish more people in the United States did this.."