Mask mandates are unpopular. I don’t know anyone who enjoys wearing a mask. Surgeons wear them to avoid infecting surgery patients. Robbers wear them to avoid identification. Masks became political. Liberals who favor collective outcomes support mask mandates while conservatives who favor personal freedom do not. Today in stores I see a few people wearing masks, mostly just a few older people. It always amuses me when a car drives by and the driver — the sole occupant — is wearing a mask.
I recall debates about whether masks are even effective. Some say it prevents breathing in viruses while others say it prevents infected people from infecting others. Recent research may add fuel to the fire.
Scientists just figured out why people catch more colds and flu in winter than in summer. Germs and viruses are present year around. Why does cold and flu season (and Covid) seem worse in Winter? More on this below.
Scientists discovered that long before a virus or germ you breath in has a chance to infect you, it has to avoid being captured by defenders in your nose. The following is from CNN.
A respiratory virus or bacteria invades the nose, the main point of entry into the body.
At that point, cells lining the nose immediately begin creating billions of simple copies of themselves called extracellular vesicles, or EV’s.
“EV’s can’t divide like cells can, but they are like little mini versions of cells specifically designed to go and kill these viruses,” Bleier said. “EV’s act as decoys, so now when you inhale a virus, the virus sticks to these decoys instead of sticking to the cells.”
Those “Mini Me’s” are then expelled by the cells into nasal mucus (yes, snot), where they stop invading germs before they can get to their destinations and multiply.
Once created and dispersed out into nasal secretions, the billions of EV’s then start to swarm the marauding germs, Bleier said.
When your nose is under attack, it increases production of EVs by 160% according to scientists.
“Just imagine receptors as little arms that are sticking out, trying to grab on to the viral particles as you breathe them in,” Bleier said. “And we found each vesicle has up to 20 times more receptors on the surface, making them super sticky.”
Cells in the body also contain a viral killer called micro RNA, which attack invading germs.
Yet EVs in the nose contained 13 times micro RNA sequences than normal cells, the study found.
Back to the question why we get more colds and flu in winter. It’s because a small drop in temperature cools the nasal passages, which reduces the immune response in the nose.
“What we found is that when you’re exposed to cold air, the temperature in your nose can drop by as much as 9 degrees Fahrenheit. And that’s enough to essentially knock out all three of those immune advantages that the nose has,” Bleier said.
In fact, that little bit of coldness in the tip of the nose was enough to take nearly 42% of the extracellular vesicles out of the fight, Bleier said.
“Similarly, you have almost half the amount of those killer micro RNA’s inside each vesicle, and you can have up to a 70% drop in the number of receptors on each vesicle, making them much less sticky,” he said.
So, what does this all have to do with masks? Wearing a mask in winter is like wearing a sweater for your nose. It keeps your nasal environment warmer and more humid. Not only may masks inhibit inhalation of invaders, but scientists also say it helps maintain the immune response once germs and viruses get past the masks.
A final thought. This research was not about masks. It was a discovery of a previously unknown nasal first line of defense against invading germs and viruses. The nose is how most colds and flu enter the body. Also, it has pharmacological implications. Researchers suggest perhaps it will lead to a nasal spray that fools your nose into thinking it’s under attack to boost the immune response.