School of Population Health

New research to provide first evidence into whether face masks are effective against bushfire smoke

Bushfire smoke Michael Roper

The Kirby Institute’s Professor Raina MacIntyre, and former head of the School of Public Health and Community Medicine (SPHCM), has been awarded almost $500,000 funding by the Australian Government’s Medical Research Future Fund as part of its Bushfire Impact Research Grant scheme to determine the impact of face mask use on respiratory outcomes during the recent bushfire season.

Public health experts, Dr Abrar Chughtai and Dr Holly Seale from the School of Public Health and Community Medicine (SPHCM) will be working on this project alongside other international experts, which will take place during the next bushfire season. 
During the recent bushfire season, the advice to stay indoors and use of face masks and P2/N95 respirators was widespread. 

"While this was the best practical advice that could be adopted during such an emergency, it was driven by informed common sense, rather than evidence,” explains Professor MacIntyre. “There is a gap in evidence about these measures in protecting against prolonged smoke exposure, particularly for asthma sufferers and those with other respiratory conditions.”

In announcing the Bushfire Impact Research Grant scheme, Minister for Health, The Hon Greg Hunt MP said that the projects will assist in planning for the next emergency. 

“This research will help Australia remain at the forefront of preparedness and recovery in the event of natural disasters, including bushfires,” he said.

Dr Chughtai is a medical epidemiologist and an emerging leader in face mask research. He has published more than 30 papers on face masks and other personal protective equipment in healthcare and community settings. In this project he will be doing data management and analysis. 
Dr Holly Seale has over 12 years experience in infectious disease public health and health service research. She has been involved with major clinical trials in community and healthcare settings focused on the use of masks and respirators. She has led a program of social science research focused on examining factors associated with acceptance and use of these strategies

More information

Media release from the Kirby Institute

Media release from Minister for Health, Greg Hunt

Bushfire image by Michael Roper (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

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School of Public Health and Community Medicine (SPHCM)