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VERIFY: Getting a staph infection from a mask is pretty rare

Leaving wounds untreated can increase your risk of a staph infection -- whether you're wearing a mask or not.

There have been some online claims that wearing a mask can cause Staphylococcus, an infection that often causes rashes on the face or worse.

But is that even possible? 

The VERIFY team spoke with medical correspondent Dr. Payal Kohli, to discuss how staph infections spread and to get recommendations for avoiding it.

THE QUESTION

Can you get Staphylococcus by wearing a face mask?

THE ANSWER

According to Dr. Kohli, you would need to have an untreated wound or an open lesion on your face for wearing a mask to lead to a staph infection and it’s a pretty rare occurrence.

WHAT WE FOUND

Dr. Kohli explained in a Zoom call with the VERIFY team that Staphylococcus bacteria live in people’s nose and mouth, “it only enters our skin when there’s an open wound or cut. People should check with their doctor about wearing a mask if there’s a skin lesion on the face.”  

“There are certainly skin problems that can occur by wearing masks, but having a staph infection is a pretty rare occurrence and it usually involves multiple things for it to happen,” she explained.

Kohli said that skin reactions can occur by wearing masks, mainly by wearing them for a long time, which can cause superficial abrasion or chafing of the skin. In the case of medical teams who wear N95 respirators for hours, the tightness of the mask can cause a bruise that the body absorbs naturally.

“If you think about it, you’re putting more pressure on your face for several hours a day, the small blood vessels under the skin can get squeezed causing the bruise, but this is not a permanent damage as the body usually reabsorbs any internal skin blood after a while,” Dr. Kohli clarified.

When it comes to skin care and wearing masks properly, Dr. Kohli had some recommendations. “Make sure you wash your face before you put your mask on, take frequent mask breaks to allow your skin to breathe and minimize the amount of product you’re putting on your skin such as makeup and those types of chemicals.”

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She also said to be generous with moisturizers, as they can protect skin from irritation or chafing, and make sure the mask is clean “because otherwise you’re inoculating these organisms into your skin.”

Mask or not, you can generally lower your risk of staph infections by washing your hands regularly and treating cuts with soap, water and bandages immediately, according to Cleveland Clinic

UC Health adds that you should avoid contact with wounds and bandages of others and that you should avoid sharing personal items like razors and towels. UC Health doesn’t mention masks specifically, but it’s probably a good idea to avoid sharing used masks, as well.

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