International Lung Day 2020 – Dr Uta Butt from the German Respiratory Health League in an interview on wearing face masks and the importance of theme days

The 25 September 2020 is International Lung Day. According to Dr Uta Butt from the German Respiratory Health League (Deutsche Atemwegsliga e.V.) and Managing Director of AG Lungensport (AG lung sport) this is a good day, as it offers “a wonderful opportunity to find out about the subject in hand”. The German Respiratory Health League has, for instance, answered all kinds of questions on Covid-19 by video message this year; the kind of questions that are of particular concern to people with lung disease.

PARI BLOG: Dr Butt how important are days like International Lung Day for people with respiratory diseases?

Dr. Uta Butt: Theme days offer a wonderful opportunity to find out about the subject in hand. Many organisations and associations use theme days for their campaigns and special offers. The theme day puts a subject centre stage and it enjoys more extensive reporting, as different participants highlight different facets of a subject.

PARI BLOG: The German Lung Day for 2020 was brought forward because of coronavirus and people were able to ask questions in a virtual setting which were then answered by specialists by video message. Did that go down well? 

Dr. Uta Butt: There was enormous interest. We answered every – literally every single – question in the follow-up to the event. Many thanks to all lecturers who put in such a sterling effort. There was also great demand for information on the issue of rare diseases. Covid-19 is new. This is why, understandably, the experience we have gained so far is with what is common. People with rare diseases are anxious because there isn’t much information out there on their specific disease. Risk assessment was a major issue.

PARI BLOG: What is especially important to take into account when it comes to assessing risk? 

Dr. Uta Butt: It’s important that patients carry on taking their prescribed therapy. Generally, the risk of the respiratory disorder becoming worse is much higher than the risk posed by a prescribed medication. I would therefore appeal to everybody to talk to their doctor if they are unsure. And they should certainly not stop taking the prescribed therapy they need without consulting their doctor.

PARI BLOG: You yourself were available for questions and answers on the topic “Which mask for which occasion - what to consider when using face masks?" People asked questions like, how long you can wear FFP masks or if a face shield is a viable alternative. What did you advise?  

Dr. Uta Butt: A healthy person can wear an FFP mask for one to four hours, depending on physical exertion. Then they need a 30-minute break. If the mask is damp it should be replaced, depending on how long it has already been worn. FFP masks are generally single-use items and should be disposed of at the end of the day.

Only a handful of people are exempt from wearing a face mask. They are often so ill that they should avoid crowds as a general rule. They should consult their doctor to see what options they have. For instance, there are face masks with an expiratory valve.

A face shield only offers minimal protection and does not meet the requirements for face masks for routine use. There are now also face shields that draw the air down the body and therefore provide better protection than conventional models.

PARI BLOG: What are the challenges faced by people with chronic respiratory diseases during the coronavirus pandemic?

Dr. Uta Butt: First of all, it is important to calculate your own risk. People with mild to moderate asthma are not at increased risk of a severe covid-19 infection. However, people with COPD are.

Even if it is difficult, wearing a face mask protects especially those at higher risk.

PARI BLOG: What other tips can you give us based on your experience?

Dr. Uta Butt: When it comes to lung function tests, I would advise you to reschedule routine tests or only to have tests which are medically necessary. But you shouldn’t reschedule any necessary trips to the doctor because of Covid-19! I would also advise people to get vaccinated. Viruses love the cold. There is an effective flu vaccine. Older people should also have the pneumococci vaccination. Neither of these vaccinations will protect you from Covid-19, but they will protect you from other infections such as flu or pneumococcal pneumonia. Travelling also spreads the virus over vast distances.

PARI BLOG: So are you advising people not to travel?

Dr. Uta Butt: Yes and no. It isn’t clear how safe train travel is. You do have to wear a face mask when you travel, but the air conditioning is often out of action. And even if it is working, the air is also continually circulated. It is not known how much fresh air is drawn into the system. We really don' know enough details. There are no set seats.  In restaurants, they keep a record of who visited and when. But on the train, we don’t know who else is on board.

In the restaurant they are keeping seats free at the moment. On the train there is no plan to do so.

PARI BLOG: Many thanks for the interview, Dr Butt.

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Note: The statements made in the interview are the individual views of the interviewee. They do not necessarily reflect the PARI view or the general state of science.

An article written by the PARI BLOG editorial team.

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