Potential for "Variolation" as We Await a Vaccine

A recent article in the New England Journal of Medicine explores how universal face masking might help reduce the severity of disease and ensure that a greater proportion of new infections are asymptomatic.

The hopes for vaccines are pinned not just on infection prevention: most vaccine trials include a secondary outcome of decreasing the severity of illness, since increasing the proportion of cases in which disease is mild or asymptomatic would be a public health victory. Universal masking seems to reduce the rate of new infections; we hypothesize that by reducing the viral inoculum, it would also increase the proportion of infected people who remain asymptomatic.

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