Background: Health care workers outside surgical suites in Asia use surgical-type face masks commonly. Prevention of upper respiratory infection is one reason given, although evidence of effectiveness is lacking.
Methods: Health care workers in a tertiary care hospital in Japan were randomized into 2 groups: 1 that wore face masks and 1 that did not. They provided information about demographics, health habits, and quality of life. Participants recorded symptoms daily for 77 consecutive days, starting in January 2008. Presence of a cold was determined based on a previously validated measure of self-reported symptoms. The number of colds between groups was compared, as were risk factors for experiencing cold symptoms.
Results: Thirty-two health care workers completed the study, resulting in 2464 subject days. There were 2 colds during this time period, 1 in each group. Of the 8 symptoms recorded daily, subjects in the mask group were significantly more likely to experience headache during the study period (P < .05). Subjects living with children were more likely to have high cold severity scores over the course of the study.
Conclusion: Face mask use in health care workers has not been demonstrated to provide benefit in terms of cold symptoms or getting colds. A larger study is needed to definitively establish noninferiority of no mask use.