Fact Check: Did a study claim that face-masks are petri dishes for pathogens to fester?

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Quick Take

An article on social media claims that, “Face masks are not only useless, they’re also petri dishes for dangerous pathogens to fester and multiply.” We fact-checked and found this claim to be Mostly False.

The Claim

An article published in the NewsPunch titled, “Study: Face Masks Are Filled with Disease-Causing Bacteria and Fungi states, “Face masks are not only useless, they’re also petri dishes for dangerous pathogens to fester and multiply.”

Fact Check

Are Facemasks beneficial in preventing the spread of COVID?

Mostly. Facemasks alone cannot prevent the spread of COVID, but, they are beneficial when used as a part of a comprehensive strategy against Covid. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also recommends the use of masks by stating, “Wear a Mask to Protect Yourself and Others.”

According to the WHO, “Masks should be used as part of a comprehensive strategy of measures to suppress transmission and save lives; the use of a mask alone is insufficient to provide an adequate level of protection against COVID-19.”

THIP Media has already fact checked the claim, “masks are ineffective and vaccines are unnecessary for most of the people” and clarified that masks can help slow the spread of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), even though their effectiveness in preventing COVID is variable as per the mask being used.

Did the Scientific Reports state that ‘Face masks are not only useless, they’re also petri dishes for dangerous pathogens to fester and multiply’?

No. Despite the claims of NewsPunch, the authors of the study published in the ‘Scientific Reports, came to no such conclusion. The only recommendations by the study is that, “immunocompromised people should avoid repeated use of masks to prevent microbial infection.” Furthermore, it also suggests, “Since masks can be a direct source of infection to the respiratory tract, digestive tract, and skin, it is crucial to maintain their hygiene to prevent bacterial and fungal infections that can exacerbate COVID-19.”

Do Facemasks harbor bacteria?

Yes. According to the study published in the ‘Scientific Reports, “The bacterial colony numbers were greater on the face-side than the outer-side; the fungal colony numbers were fewer on the face-side than the outer-side. A longer mask usage significantly increased the fungal colony numbers but not the bacterial colony numbers. Although most identified microbes were non-pathogenic in humans; Staphylococcus epidermidis, Staphylococcus aureus, and Cladosporium, we found several pathogenic microbes; Bacillus cereus, Staphylococcus saprophyticus, Aspergillus, and Microsporum.” This means that most of the microbes found on the mask are harmless, even though some are pathogenic. But, it must be noted that indigenous and pathogenic bacteria cannot grow on the mask because they need water and nutrients to multiply.  The mask cannot be considered as a petridish, which can be used to culture various microorganisms. It cannot provide the essential environment for a microbe to thrive. 

During the pandemic, the benefits outweigh the harmful effects of face masks. The World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended the use of masks during the COVID-19 pandemic. Moreover, the bacterial or fungal load present on the face-mask is variable as per the duration as well as the longevity of being worn. Therefore, prevention strategies must be taken into consideration while using a mask.

What are the prevention startegies to be kept in mind while using a mask?

Few strategies that the WHO recommends in order to minimize the bacterial and fungal load are as follows-

  1. “Before touching the mask, clean your hands with an alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water.
  2. Avoid touching the mask while wearing it. If you touch it, clean your hands.
  3. Change your mask if it gets dirty or wet.
  4. Clean your hands after removing the mask.”

In order to know when to change or throw away your mask, the CDC recommeds the following-

  1. “Disposable masks should be thrown away after they’re worn once.
  2. If you use respirators, check the manufacturer’s instructions to learn how long they can be worn before they should be thrown away.
  3. Disposable masks and respirators that become wet or dirty should be thrown away in the trash right away. Do not continue to wear a wet or dirty mask. Replace it with a dry, clean mask.”

THIP MEDIA TAKE: In conclusion, even though the Scientific Reports never mentioned that face-masks are petri dishes for pathogens to fester. It is somewhat true that face-masks harbor bacteria, which can be both non-pathogenic as well as pathogenic. Therefore, it is necessary to maintain proper hygiene and follow all the protocols to minimize that. Special care should be taken for immunocompromised patient and they should avoid repeated use of masks to prevent microbial infection

Disclaimer: Medical Science is an ever evolving field. We strive to keep this page updated. In case you notice any discrepancy in the content, please inform us at [email protected]. You can futher read our Correction Policy here. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking medical treatment because of something you have read on or accessed through this website or it's social media channels. Read our Full Disclaimer Here for further information.

Disclaimer
Medical Science is an ever evolving field. We strive to keep this page updated. In case you notice any discrepancy in the content, please inform us at [email protected]. You can further read our Correction Policy here. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking medical treatment because of something you have read on or accessed through this website or it's social media channels. Read our Full Disclaimer Here for further information.

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