By Annie Freeda Cruez
KUALA LUMPUR: The Health Ministry does not recommend the use of washable face masks to stop the spread of influenza A (H1N1).
Health director-general Tan Sri Dr Ismail Merican said the mask, sold at pasar malam for RM5 each, had not been evaluated by the ministry.
"People should use 3-ply and N95 masks if they have influenza-like illness (ILI)."
N95 masks fit tightly over the face, filtering out 95 per cent of small particles.
Studies show that people can cut the risk of getting sick by 60 to 80 per cent by using masks in combination with frequent hand-washing and avoiding close contact with sick persons.
Dr Ismail said masks should be used once and then thrown away.
"Wearing masks is not the solution. It helps, of course, especially if you are sick and want to move around.
"Malaysians should also observe strict personal hygiene, washing hands with soap and water, use of alcohol rubs or sanitisers, practise cough and sneeze etiquette and stay home if unwell."
The official death toll now stands at 73, as the ministry's mortality review committee has yet to confirm three deaths reported earlier.
The latest confirmed death, Dr Ismail said, was a 25-year-old woman from Betong, Sarawak, who died on Tuesday at Sibu Hospital after being admitted with fever, cough and sore throat on Aug 30.
Another 266 patients with ILI were admitted to hospitals nationwide, while 293 who were warded earlier have been discharged.
Dr Ismail said there were 1,211 patients in 110 hospitals, including 11 private hospitals, nationwide, with 230 confirmed as having H1N1.
Of the 230 patients, 41 were being treated in intensive care units.
Dr Ismail said there were still many people with ILI symptoms who out in public without wearing masks or adhering to cough and sneeze etiquette.
"Please follow our advice as by not doing so, you are spreading the virus to others, especially those who fall under the high risk category.
"Because of you, they may suffer complications and some may even die," he said.
The World Health Organisation has reported 246,221 confirmed cases of H1N1 with 2,958 deaths in 182 countries. - NST