A history of the medical mask and the rise of throwaway culture

What are the causes of the shortage of face masks during the COVID-19 pandemic? Research by Bruno J. Strasser of the University of Geneva and Thomas Schlich of McGill University on the origin of the medical mask answers this question from a historical perspective.

The authors show that masks were developed at the end of the 19th century to prevent surgeons from infecting their patients. But it was during the influenza pandemic of 1918-1919 that their use became widespread to protect against infectious people. All masks, made of fabric and metal, were reusable. In the 1960s, the industry developed and vigorously promoted disposable masks. Experimental studies showed that they were no more effective than reusable masks. However, they eventually replaced reusable masks, creating a dependence on a constant supply. The recent shortage of masks, with sometimes tragic consequences for medical workers, shows the cost of this historic choice.

This article was published in The Lancet, on May 22nd 2020.

On the same topic:

” L’élimination des masques réutilisables est un choix historique discutable” : Interview from Bruno Strasser in Le Monde, published on May 25th 2020.

“2020, année de la science citoyenne?” : Le grand débat with Bruno Strasser on RTS on May 25th 2020.

“Et si l’erreur c’était de vouloir des masques jetables”: Emission radio Superfail on France Culture, June 1st 2020.