With cold and flu season underway – you may be wondering… should you go so far as to wear a surgical mask in public – like on a bus, train or plane – to avoid inhaling some sick person’s germs?

Well, you may get some weird looks – but you know what, it can help. Dr. Allison Aiello is an epidemiologist at the University of North Carolina – which is someone who studies the spread of diseases and how to control them. And Dr. Aiello’s research has shown that people who wore masks for 6 hours a day during the height of cold and flu season were 75% less likely to get sick. And it may not JUST be because surgical masks are tightly woven, keeping germs out. It may also be because a surgical mask covers the nose and mouth – so you can’t inadvertently rub your nose with a germy hand and infect yourself.

And know this, draping a scarf across your nose and mouth may be a better fashion statement than wearing a surgical mask – but it won’t give you nearly the same protection. Because the weave is too loose to keep germy particles from entering your airway.