Subject: Re: Thailand - Masks or no Masks
Hi Rosemary,

There's still huge controversy over here on the efficacy of masks to prevent transmission of viruses. They DO help guard against germs but 90% of people use them incorrectly which renders them not only useless but, actually, virus carriers.

To summarize a report sent to all patients of my HK doctor's clinic: the length of time you wear a mask and how you handle it are important. 4 hours at a time is supposedly the longest you should wear the same mask (during the last SARS outbreak people here were wearing them all day and even keeping them till the next day). The big thing is that you should never touch the outside of your mask. Consider this scenario: someone sneezes in your face and the mask protects you from the droplets ....then you touch the outside of your mask, where the droplets have 'stuck' and then, perhaps, rub your eye with the same hand. Last year I found myself doing this all the time - you don't realize how many times you touch your face with your hands until you have a reason to start monitoring it!

I'd say - it's a good idea to purchase some disposable masks before you leave and have them with you in case you get into a situation where you feel perhaps it would be wise to wear one. Personally, I would only wear a mask if I had a bad cough and wanted to make sure that others weren't afraid of me (!) or I was going to be in a very crowded place (such as the subway at rush hour) in a city that had been pinpointed as having many cases of SARS and/or people were coughing around me. As others have said, some people wear them on the plane just to try to avoid the germs that are recirculated around the cabin - if it works - all the better. Before SARS people might have stared it's such a common thing - nobody bats an eye at someone wearing a mask.

The most important thing to do in this region is make sure you wash your hands at every opportunity. Buy some of that alcohol handwash that doesn't need water (I always forget the name of that stuff) and/or wet-wipes and keep it/them with you at all times. They'll come in handy not only for general hygiene because you'll need them in restaurants too - many restaurants don't provide napkins (although some do put a package of tissues on the table). And - don't forget to bring lots of little tissue packages - you'll need that for the washrooms!!!

Have a wonderful time! Judy in Hong Kong