Covid-19 has been a major health challenge for the world since 2020. Ever since its outbreak, it has caused unprecedented loss of human life, overwhelmed the best of healthcare systems of the world, wrecked havoc on economies and led to immense suffering for the people. As is the natural for any virus strain, the Covid 19 has also undergone multiple mutations as it tries to escape the immune system of the body, leading to formation of multiple strains. Some of the strains have shown gene sequencing inherited from two or more corona virus strains during the course of these mutations. In common parlance, we call these as double mutant or triple mutant, depending on whether its gene sequencing shows genes of two or three mutated virus strains respectively.
WHO Classification of Variants
World Health Organization, WHO, classifies these variants as ‘Variants of interest’ and ‘Variants of Concern’. Under this classification, it has identified 6 Variants of Interest and 4 Variants of Concern. Variants of concern are the ones which have are very contagious, deadly or vaccination has not developed for these. The four Variants of Concern are the B.1.1.7 which was first found in United Kingdom, B.1.351 which was first found in South Africa, P.1 which was detected in Brazil and B.1.617 which is found in India. The latest to be added is the B.1.617 triple mutant virus which is found to be highly contagious and virulent, and is of global concern. Limited studies conducted so far have shown that the vaccinations work well against these strains but still more research is needed in this respect.
For the common man, this leaves a question whether taking usual preventive measures, such as wearing a mask, washing hand regularly with soap, using sanitizers and adopting “Covid-appropriate” behavior is a good enough protection?
Triple Mutant is ‘Airborne’
In specific reference to the B.1.617 strain, it has been declared to be ‘airborne’, due to its relatively smaller size and ability to stay in the air for a far longer period of time than the original Covid-19 virus. This changes the priorities of effective protective measures. This makes it imperative for the people to wear mask as a protection as masks become the primary safeguards.
While masks are recommended as a priority protection against Triple Mutant Viruses, there is advisory that other measures such as washing hands, using sanitizers and social distancing shall also be adhered to.
What Kind of Mask Would Offer the Best Protection?
There are all kinds of masks available in the market, from the surgical 3 and 4 ply masks and multiple layer cotton masks to the best quality N95 masks. The N95 masks filter out almost 95% of the harmful airborne viruses and other microbes. It is generally assumed that for daily outdoor wear, these would filter out the virus of the size of this triple mutant. Therefore, these are better choice in fight against Covid-19 as compared to other masks.
If you are using N95 which fits snuggly on your face and does not let air to pass through from any side, then you do not need another mask over it for enhanced protection. However, there is no harm if you decide to double it with another cotton or surgical mask.
Is Double Masking Effective Against Triple Mutant Virus?
The Centre for Disease Control (CDC) of USA has suggested that double-masking is also an effective preventive measure as it helps to strengthen the position of the mask and reduces the risk of infection by as much as 85-95%.
Double masking shall be done while going out in public places where there is high risk of being infected and cotton or surgical masks are being used. However, the general recommendation is that if you are using a cotton fabric mask, then the second mask shall ideally be a surgical mask, not another one of cotton. These masks shall itself be at least double layered.
The Fit Matters
Whether you use an N95 mask or a double mask, it is important that this fits well on your face. It shall fit snuggly over the face. If there are gaps, you run the risk of catching infection.
It can be said that while vaccinations are believed to provide protection against severity of mutant strains of Covid 19, masks are nevertheless required to be worn as the first line of protection.