Living with Myeloma also means living with an increased risk of infections, especially upper respiratory infections and those infections are tougher to control and treat as our immune systems are weakened by prolonged treatment with our myeloma meds and stem cell transplants. Out of control respiratory infections are a leading cause of death of multiple myeloma patients. We are all used to having to wear surgical face masks when we enter our myeloma treatment clinics (or, at least, I HOPE that you are also told to do so, together with a good washing of hands, before you set foot inside the clinic).
There are several different types of facemasks and a quick search in Amazon’s directory for ‘facemask’ will give you a variety of options. Two main options stand out : the ‘medical mask’ that is prevalent in our clinics and the N95 mask (the one that looks more Dart Vader-ish) that is advertised as ‘better’ and therefor also quite a bit pricier. Which of the two is the better option ?
The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) has just published an original investigation to give us great guidance. A study involving 2,862 health care workers, at 137 US outpatient centers of 7 medical centers, spanning a period of 4 ‘flu seasons’ showed that :
‘As worn by health care personnel in this trial, use of N95 respirators, compared with medical masks, in the outpatient setting resulted in no significant difference in the rates of laboratory-confirmed influenza.’
And there you have it : both types of masks provide, in essence, the same amount of protection. My only comment to this is that I would expect that the masks are properly worn by patients/caregivers and medical staff. None of this business of having your nose stick out over the mask so your glasses don’t fog up. You crimp the mask properly over the bridge of your nose and make sure you also have a halfway decent seal at the bottom of the mask. If you don’t like fogged up glasses, then move your glasses closer to the tip of your nose. Please do this, not only for yourself but also for your fellow patients.
I strongly encourage you to read the summary of the journal article provided in the link above. It is written in plain English, without fancy medical terms. It will take you all of three minutes and you will also get a reading that the different masks’ efficacy is similar for acute respiratory illness, laboratory detected respiratory infections and influenza like illness.
As for me : I always wear a mask when out in public and have been free of any kind of respiratory illness for nearly six years. Besides, the lines at Costco or Walmart move faster when you show up at the end of the line with your mask. Folks hustle a bit more to get out of your way. That’s one of the positives of myeloma. Plus, it’s a great opportunity to spread multiple myeloma awareness to those who ask you why you’re out with the mask.
about the author
I am a patient diagnosed in 2014 with primary plasma cell leukemia (pPCL), a rare and aggressive variant of multiple myeloma and have been very fortunate to find successful treatment at the division of Cellular Therapy at the Duke University Cancer Institute. My wife, Vicki, and I have two adult children and two grandsons who are the ‘lights of our lives’. Successful treatment has allowed Vicki and I to do what we love best : traveling the world, albeit it with some extra precautions to keep infections away. My career in the pharmaceutical industry has given me insights that I am currently putting to use as an advocate to lower drug pricing, especially prices for anti-cancer drugs. I am a firm believer that staying mentally active, physically fit, compliant to our treatment regimen and taking an active interest in our disease are keys to successful treatment outcomes.