Among the many preventions of the novel coronavirus, wearing a face mask is one of the most visible. The outbreak has sent people scrambling for face masks like never before.
But health experts do not think it will help much as some evidence suggests that the masks can only help prevent hand-to-mouth transmissions, reports BBC.
"Routine surgical masks for the public are not an effective protection against viruses or bacteria carried in the air", which was how "most viruses" were transmitted because they were too loose, had no air filter and left the eyes exposed, Dr David Carrington, of St George's, University of London said.
But they could help lower the risk of contracting a virus through the "splash" from a sneeze or a cough and provide some protection against hand-to-mouth transmissions.
"In one well-controlled study in a hospital setting, the face mask was as good at preventing influenza infection as a purpose-made respirator," Jonathan Ball, professor of molecular virology at the University of Nottingham, said.
Respirators, which tend to feature a specialised air filter, are specifically designed to protect against potentially hazardous airborne particles. "However, when you move to studies looking at their effectiveness in the general population, the data is less compelling - it's quite a challenge to keep a mask on for prolonged periods of time," he added.
Dr Connor Bamford, of the Wellcome-Wolfson Institute for Experimental Medicine, at Queen's University Belfast, said "implementing simple hygiene measures" was vastly more effective.
"Covering your mouth while sneezing, washing your hands, and not putting your hands to your mouth before washing them, could help limit the risk of catching any respiratory virus," he said.
Dr Jake Dunning, head of emerging infections and zoonoses at Public Health England, said: "Although there is a perception that the wearing of facemasks may be beneficial, there is in fact very little evidence of widespread benefit from their use outside of these clinical setting."
He said masks had to be worn correctly, changed frequently and got rid of safely if they were to work properly.
"Research also shows that compliance with these recommended behaviours reduces over time when wearing facemasks for prolonged periods," he added.
People would be better to focus on good personal and hand hygiene if they are concerned, he said.