Is a sheet mask safe when summer temperatures and the heat of the breath reduce it to wet and potentially germ-laden protection? Microbiologist Sarah Lebeer (UAntwerpen) advocates more thoughtful use.
Now that more and more countries are making the mask mandatory in public spaces, discussions about its usefulness are revived. In order to slow the spread of the coronavirus, the mask is being given the benefit of the doubt at this time. Provided it is used in combination with regular hand washing, physical distancing and less social contact, there are few studies on the effect of mouth masks on the course of a pandemic. Systematic and controlled studies comparing a group of subjects wearing a mouth mask to a group without one are difficult to perform. In addition, high quality FFP masks, which are not intended for the general public, and reusable masks are often grouped together. The latter category is the subject of much discussion, and if you have asthma or are under-trained, it is not good to exercise with a mask, whether surgical or cloth. Experts seem to agree on this point. The World Health Organization (WHO) even totally advises against them in this specific case and believes that it is more important to keep your distance while exercising as a preventive measure. If it is more difficult to breathe, the risk of hyperventilation, dizziness and fainting increases. Even trained athletes are hampered in their breathing by a mouth mask, which weakens their performance.The theory that wearing a mask for a long time helps to increase the concentration of CO2 and reduce the concentration of oxygen in the body. the blood is however invalidated by the WHO. Mouth masks are unpleasant and some people experience a sensation close to claustrophobia, but they are not tight enough in the face to cause CO2 to build up in the blood. But what happens when you are not doing exercise ? Is a tissue in front of your mouth and nose safe if your breath, saliva, nasal membranes, and sweat are confined underneath? The few studies available show that the prolonged and overuse of cotton masks, in particular, is disastrous. We put them in our pockets, constantly touching our hands, we wear them too long and we wash them too little and not carefully enough. And this is how they become breeding grounds for bacteria, also recent research from the Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology Laboratory at the University of Antwerp (UAntwerpen) shows. Professor Sarah Lebeer’s research team found in June that fabric masks contain 10 to 20 times more bacteria than surgical masks after wearing them for four hours, due to the material’s higher moisture content. used in fabric masks. Surgical masks work best because they are made of a more absorbent material, always contain a filter, and are only used once. “Moisture and food scraps in saliva stimulate the spread of microorganisms. , which allows bacteria and fungi to multiply on the mask without needing a host, ”Lebeer explains. “Viruses do not spread without a host, but accumulate on the mask with every breath and with every drop of saliva, with all the risks that this entails. The general rule is: the longer you wear it, the longer you will get. must be careful. ”In addition, bacteria identified in research appear to be resistant to the antibiotics erythromycin and ampicillin. Nearly 50% of the bacteria isolated showed resistance to at least one of these antibiotics, a major cause for concern, according to Lebeer. “Antibiotic resistance is a major problem. Since antibiotics are so prevalent, everyone carries resistant bacteria, but under normal circumstances the immune system takes care of it. The introduction of the mask on such a large scale is something to think about in the context of the antibiotic crisis. “While the microorganisms on masks are not immediately life threatening, they can make you sick, Lebeer said. In the next phase of the research, she wants to know what the exact health consequences are. “It is wrong to say that you cannot get sick from your own bacteria. Many diseases are caused by dysbiosis or an imbalance of the bacteria. your microbiome. For example, we have found a number of staphylococci, which are responsible for acute sinusitis and skin infections like acne. Of course, it’s not deadly like Covid-19, but it is a concern for people who are already debilitated. “” Staph are usually suppressed in the nose and mouth by any other bacteria or by your immune system. This is not the case on a mouth mask. It is not inconceivable that a staphylococcus which develops to a certain concentration outside the body can make you sick. “Making the mask compulsory on a large scale, as the province of Antwerp is doing, is not a good thing for Lebeer. She pleads for a more thoughtful strategy. Many people are unaware of what they are touching, which increases the risk of contamination. “As we still know too little about biosecurity, I recommend against the cloth mask when walking or cycling. outdoors. It can only be useful indoors, in busy places, when the distance is not guaranteed or when ventilation is not possible. Opening windows, frequent washing hand protection and disinfecting surfaces are more effective safety measures. ”According to Lebeer, wearing a mouth mask is more a psychological issue. “The obligation to wear a mask is a very visible measure. It makes people aware that the virus is still there. But normally, we only protect ourselves when there is a risk of exposure, as in hospitals. , among doctors and in public transport. “” The fact that the government applies the precautionary principle and now also recommends wearing a mask in public places is understandable and clear, but on the basis of biosecurity, I wonder about that. The mouth mask can do more harm than good. And we don’t pay enough attention to it. ”