This is how often you should wash your cloth face mask.
The claim: Face masks cause staph infections.
Since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended the use of face masks in public in April, misinformation about the consequences of mask-wearing has spread on social media.
A subset of users has falsely claimed that rather than promoting health, masks are actually a detriment to it – by weakening the immune system or causing carbon dioxide poisoning, among other assertions.
The latest claim to make the rounds is that wearing face masks causes staph infections.
A few widely shared posts contain dozens of screenshots of tweets that claim to be individuals’ stories of mask-related staph infections.
“27 different people are saying this …” one user wrote alongside the tweets, which include photos and anecdotes about staph infections and other mask-related issues.
The user did not respond to a request from USA TODAY for comment.
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Staph infections are ‘common’ and ‘typically not dangerous’
Dr. Zaineb Makhzoumi, an assistant professor and the head of dermatologic surgery at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, told USA TODAY that staph infections are “really common.”
“It’s just a bacterial infection of the skin,” she said. “Staphylococci are a very, very common type of bacteria that live on the skin and in the mouth and in the nose of a lot of very, very healthy people.”
For most, the bacteria are a “totally benign part of life,” she said, though “in a few subsets of patients, staph bacteria can cause a localized infection in the skin.”
More: Fact check: Masks are effective in stopping the coronavirus
Any break to the skin, like a cut or scrape, could also cause an infection.
Dr. Adam Friedman, a professor and the interim chair of dermatology at the George Washington University School of Medicine & Health Sciences, told USA TODAY that staph infections most often manifest as a boil, “a bump that can be filled with pus, that’s painful, red, warm to the touch.”
“They’re typically not dangerous, per se,” he said. “You need to treat them – sometimes it’s as simple as having the physician open it up and let it drain, sometimes they’ll combine antibiotics with it, but in most cases, staph infections of the skin are annoying, but not life threatening in the slightest.”
More: Fact check: What’s true and what’s false about face masks?
Masks do not cause staph infections
Both Makhzoumi and Friedman confirmed to USA TODAY that face masks do not cause staph infections.
And fact-checks of similar claims from Lead Stories and The Associated Press cite at least four other doctors who said the same.
“In no cases have we seen or have we heard or have we had an association between mask use and staph infection,” Makhzoumi said, noting that she has not seen an uptick of staph infections in her patients since the start of the pandemic.
Friedman agreed that masks do not cause staph infections, and are no more likely to lead to an injury or abrasion to the skin that could allow for infection.
“Anything that can abrade the top layer of the skin can facilitate the entry of bacteria,” he said. “It’s not unique to a mask.”
And those abrasions can be avoided with hygiene and skin care, like “applying a facial moisturizer to damp skin.”
“Even if this was a real problem, there are ways to mitigate that,” Friedman said. “This is not an all or none. You can do things to protect your skin so that doesn’t become an issue.”
“There are hundreds of thousands of people in health care and who have been wearing masks for decades and decades, who have had no such complications and no such side effects,” says Dr. Zaineb Makhzoumi. (Photo: Getty Images)
Makhzoumi also said that as a dermatologic surgeon, she has worn masks regularly for a decade, and has not suffered a staph infection or any other health consequences.
“There are hundreds of thousands of people in health care and who have been wearing masks for decades and decades, who have had no such complications and no such side effects,” she said.
Both Makhzoumi and Friedman encouraged the public to continue to wear face masks to combat the spread of coronavirus.
“The end all be all is, wear a freakin’ mask, protect the people around you and yourself, do not be scared off by the risk for infection,” Friedman said.
Our rating: False
Based on our research, the claim that face masks cause staph infections is FALSE. Numerous dermatologists have confirmed that face masks do not cause staph infections, and are no more likely to lead to an abrasion on the skin that could allow bacteria to enter than any other clothing.
Our fact-check sources:
- Interview with Dr. Zaineb Makhzoumi, Assistant Professor and Head of Dermatologic Surgery at the University of Maryland School of Medicine
- Interview with Dr. Adam Friedman, Professor and Interim Chair of Dermatology at The George Washington University School of Medicine & Health Sciences
- Lead Stories, August 20, “Fact Check: NO Evidence That Face Masks Cause Staph Infections”
- Associated Press, August 20, “Wearing masks does not cause lung infections, loss of consciousness”
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