What we can learn about masks from hamsters

Cheekies Team

This is the first post of our Science of Masks series, where we’ll highlight the latest scientific research on the effectiveness of face masks.

Disclaimer: We’re not scientists or health experts ourselves, just concerned citizens sharing what we’re learning from those who are.

A team of scientists at the University of Hong Kong conducted an experiment that demonstrated masks can reduce the transmission of coronavirus by 75%.

Additionally, among those who eventually contracted SARS-CoV-2 (despite wearing a mask), they became less sick compared to those who became sick without a mask.

2020 just got weirder. Photo cred: Slate.com

So, how was the study performed?

Rather than performing the study on people, the study was conducted on hamsters (an animal that is often used in studies of infectious disease).

The researchers didn’t actually put tiny masks on hamster faces… instead, a cage of healthy hamsters was placed next to a cage of sick ones, separated by a partition made of human surgical masks. Next, they generated air flow from the sick cage to the healthy cage, isolated within a system that was closed from the outside environment. They repeated this with another pair of hamster cages without the surgical mask partition, and compared the results—effectively simulating the effects of mask wearing vs. non-mask wearing on non-contact transmission rates.

Their results:

  • 66.7% (10/15) of the hamsters in the group without any masks became infected
  • Transmission reduced to 25% (6/24, P=0.018) when a surgical mask was used with the blue part facing the sick hamsters (simulating non-infected individuals wearing masks)
  • Transmission reduced to 16.7% (2/12, P=0.019) when a surgical mask was used with the blue part facing the healthy hamsters (simulating infected individuals wearing masks)
  • The non-masked hamsters experienced severe COVID-19 symptoms, whereas the masked hamsters who eventually became infected (despite the masks) experienced overall lower clinical severity and milder systems.
Experiment setup showing mask partitions. Photo cred: Business Insider

Of course, this study doesn’t perfectly simulate the efficacy of mask wearing on humans—setting up a randomized controlled trial on humans has its own ethical and logistical challenges. Would you want to volunteer yourself for an experiment like this in place of a hamster?

Us neither. Wear a damn mask.

We’re on a mission to make the world’s best face mask. Visit us at getcheekies.com.

Link to study: https://academic.oup.com/cid/article/doi/10.1093/cid/ciaa644/5848814

Should we make the hamster the official mascot of Cheekies? Cheekster the Hamster… has a nice ring to it…