Wearing face masks at home might help curb Covid-19 spread among family members

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The face masks need to be used before symptoms develop in anyone in the household who is infected, a study has found


Wearing face masks at home might help stop Covid-19 from infecting your family who live in the same household, according to a new study.

This approach has been seen to be 79 per cent effective at curbing transmission but the masks need to be used before symptoms develop in anyone in the household who is infected.

The findings, which appear in BMJ Global Health, are based on answers from 124 families in Beijing, China, who had at least one confirmed case of Covid-19 infection, about their household hygiene and behaviour during the pandemic.

Disinfection  was found to be 77 per cent effective  at stopping the virus from being passed on.

There were a total of 460 people in the families who were part of the study and their confirmed case of Covid-19 happened between late February and late March 2020.

The family members had lived with the infected person for four days before and more than 24 hours after that person’s symptoms first appeared.

Coronavirus – Wed Apr 15, 2020
People wearing face masks wait outside St Thomas’ Hospital.  (Kirsty O’Connor/PA).

The World Health Organisation (WHO) and Public Health England have not recommended that face masks should be worn either indoors or outdoors, as they await good quality evidence to back this move.


Research in China has suggested that most of the person-to-person transmission in the outbreaks of of SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus responsible for Covid-19 infection, has occurred in families.

The new study sought to see if wearing a face mask, along with measures such as social distancing and disinfection, might help tackle household transmission rates.

The families, which were usually made up of three generations ranged in size from two to nine people but had an average of four members.

The researchers looked at the risks of catching the virus within the incubation period, which is 14 days from the start of the infected person’s symptoms.


During this time the spread from the first infected person to other family members happened in 41 out of the 124 families, the researchers said.

A total of 77 adults and children were infected in this way, giving an ‘attack rate’ of 23 per cent  or around 1 in 4, the study found.

There were 13 out of 36 children involved in the study who caught the virus compared with 64 out of 92 adults. There were 12 children who had mild symptoms and one child had none.

Mild symptoms were recorded in 83 per cent of the adults, while  around 1 in 10 had severe symptoms and one person became critically ill.

Even in more crowded households, the daily use of disinfectants, window opening, and keeping at least a metre apart were linked with a lower risk of passing on the virus, the researchers found.

They added that daily contact and the number of family members wearing a face mask after any symptoms first started to appear in the household seem to pose a heightened risk.

If the first person who became ill suffered with diarrhoea this could quadruple the risk of passing on the virus.

Close daily contact, such as eating meals round a table or watching TV together, was linked to an 18-fold increased risk.

The study, which was funded by the  Beijing Science and Technology Planning Project , could be states that “household transmission is a major driver of epidemic growth.”

It suggests the findings may be relevant for families living with someone in quarantine or in enforced social isolation, and for the families of health workers who may face an ongoing risk of infection.

Regardless of the size of the household or levels of overcrowding, it adds: “This study confirms the highest risk of household transmission being prior to symptom onset, but that precautionary (non-pharmaceutical interventions), such as mask use, disinfection and social distancing in households can prevent Covid-19 transmission during the pandemic. ”

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