There is a gap in evidence about the use of face masks, P2 masks or avoidance of outdoor air in reducing the physiological impacts of prolonged bushfire smoke exposure on exacerbations of asthma and other respiratory conditions. There is no clinical trial efficacy data to support the choice and use of face masks, P2 masks or staying indoors for protection against bushfire smoke. In addition, there has been a shortage of masks during the COVID-19 pandemic, adding complexity to the upcoming summer bushfire season.
The Biosecurity Program at the Kirby Institute, with support from the Medical Research Future Fund, is conducting a randomised trial to determine the impact of surgical masks and P2 respirators during bushfire season on unfavourable effects among adults with lung disease. This research will provide the first clinical valuable data in the world on using mask and respirator to prevent worsening of asthma, emphysema and chronic bronchitis caused by smoke. It will be key to informing appropriate use of such devices for Australians affected by increased frequency of exposure to bushfires and hazardous smoke.
Part 1: Survey. To determine experiences with bushfire smoke and mask use in Australia
Part 2: Randomised clinical trial. (A randomised controlled trial of mask use in control of respiratory outcomes during bushfire season)
Part 3: In-depth interviews. To examine the factors impacting on masks and respirators in response to bushfire smoke
To help inform the appropriate use of masks and outdoor air avoidance for Australians affected by increased frequency of exposure to bushfires and hazardous smoke.
The findings will be particularly beneficial to people with asthma, chronic bronchitis, bronchiectasis or emphysema in the future. The part 1 study is complete and published.
The study has been funded by the Australian Medical Research Futures Fund as part of an urgent call for research into the health effects of bushfires.