Immunity can be achieved by inhaling small doses of COVID-19: Hamilton researchers
Published May 4, 2022 at 3:51 pm
Infectious disease researchers at McMaster University in Hamilton developed a mathematical model that suggests communities can reach high levels of COVID-19 immunity through “variolation” – inhaling smaller doses of the virus and building up immunity over time.
How can individuals ensure they’re only exposed to small doses of COVID? By wearing facemasks, according to researchers.
“If the variolation effect is strong, then the number of severe cases, and consequently pressure on health-care systems, could be substantially reduced if most people wear masks – even if masks don’t prevent them from being infected,” says senior author David Earn, Faculty of Science Research Chair in Mathematical Epidemiology. He is also a math professor at McMaster and part of Canada’s Global Nexus for Pandemics and Biological Threats.
Earn has studied infectious disease transmission dynamics and the population-level consequences of wearing masks.
Variolation was used in the 18th century when dried smallpox scabs were blown into an individual’s nose, who then contracted a mild form of the disease and developed immunity.
The new mathematical model allows researchers to estimate the potential impact of variolation through masking on the population as a whole. They found that masking could drastically slow the spread of COVID-19 and reduce the pressures faced by health care professionals.
“Our qualitative findings are that the value of masking is under-appreciated in a public health context, especially as COVID-19 transitions from pandemic to endemic, and we should think twice about getting rid of mask mandates,” says Zachary Levine, lead author of the study and a former undergraduate in the Arts and Science program at McMaster. He is now a graduate student at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel.
“As we prepare for the next pandemic, understanding how different infection control strategies could affect disease dynamics could help us understand which policies are worth pursuing.”
“If wearing a mask protects you in addition to those in the room around you, it could also have significant impacts for everyone who may not be in the room,” Levine adds.
Researchers say their findings could be applicable to any respiratory infection that is transmitted by inhaling infectious particles.
The study was published online in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface.insauga's Editorial Standards and Policies advertising