Should we all rush out and buy a gas mask

01:00 Thu 27th Sep 2001 |

asks PDTV:
Since the World Health Organisation warned the world's governments to get ready for the risk of chemical or biological attacks, army stores in the UK have sold out of gas masks. Gas masks cost between �30 and �50 a time, but they're a waste of money, according to experts.

Q. Why
A gas mask is just not going to protect you against a surprise germ warfare attack.

Q. Surely it will stop you inhaling toxins
Not all biological weapons need to be inhaled. Sarin, for example, affects the skin.

Q. But what if you were being attacked with biological agents which could be inhaled
You'd need a specialised filter for a start. The effectiveness of the mask would also depend on whether the equipment is functioning properly, is up to date, fits properly and is used appropriately.

Experts speculate that many of the gas masks on general sale are defective, and their seals are not usually tight enough to protect against many microorganisms.

The biggest drawback, however, is that to be certain of avoiding an attack with bacterial agents, you would have to wear protective suits and masks 100% of the time.

Then, even if your mask and protective suit saved your life, you would need to know how to decontaminate yourself and your environment to prevent spreading the agent and becoming infected later.

Q. Would you know an attack was happening
It's unlikely. Many bacterial agents take days to incubate. If you caught smallpox, for example, you would have infected everyone around you by the time you realised you had it.

Q. How can we protect ourselves, then
Strong disease detection, say experts. The World Health Organisation itself continuously monitors possible disease outbreaks through its Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network. This aims to alert the international community to the threat of outbreaks and ensure that they're ready to respond immediately.

Q. So I don't really need to queue at the Army Store for the next consignment of gas masks

A. Probably not.

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