Background: Governments are preparing for a potential influenza pandemic. Therefore they need data to assess the possible impact of interventions. Face-masks worn by the general population could be an accessible and affordable intervention, if effective when worn under routine circumstances.
Methodology: We assessed transmission reduction potential provided by personal respirators, surgical masks and home-made masks when worn during a variety of activities by healthy volunteers and a simulated patient.
Principal findings: All types of masks reduced aerosol exposure, relatively stable over time, unaffected by duration of wear or type of activity, but with a high degree of individual variation. Personal respirators were more efficient than surgical masks, which were more efficient than home-made masks. Regardless of mask type, children were less well protected. Outward protection (mask wearing by a mechanical head) was less effective than inward protection (mask wearing by healthy volunteers).
Conclusions/significance: Any type of general mask use is likely to decrease viral exposure and infection risk on a population level, in spite of imperfect fit and imperfect adherence, personal respirators providing most protection. Masks worn by patients may not offer as great a degree of protection against aerosol transmission.