Study: Cloth Face Masks Work but Remember to Machine Wash Them

 In COVID-19, Australia, FVEY

Cloth face masks have been proven in studies to offer a high level of pro­tec­tion against the novel coronavirus, but new research out of Australia is now sug­gest­ing that they must be washed at high tem­per­a­tures after every use.  

If that extra step isn’t taken, the face masks can increase the risk of con­t­a­m­i­na­tion, accord­ing to analy­sis from the Kirby Institute at the University of New South Wales at Sydney that was recent­ly pub­lished in BMJ Open. 

“Both cloth masks and sur­gi­cal masks should be con­sid­ered ‘con­t­a­m­i­nat­ed’ after use,” Professor Raina MacIntyre, who con­duct­ed the study, said in a news release

“Unlike sur­gi­cal masks, which are dis­posed of after use, cloth masks are reused. While it can be tempt­ing to use the same mask for mul­ti­ple days in a row, or to give it a quick hand­wash or wipe-over, our research sug­gests that this increas­es the risk of con­t­a­m­i­na­tion.”  

In con­clud­ing their find­ings, the researchers exam­ined unpub­lished data from a ran­dom­ized con­trolled trial they pub­lished in 2015 that ana­lyzed how effec­tive cloth face masks are in pre­vent­ing viral infections.

“Given the poten­tial impli­ca­tions for health work­ers or com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers who are using cloth masks during the pandemic … we found that if cloth masks were washed in the hos­pi­tal laun­dry, they were as effec­tive as a sur­gi­cal mask,” MacIntyre said.

The researchers noted that the ini­tial study was con­duct­ed rough­ly five years ago, so they weren’t able to direct­ly test the novel coronavirus. Instead, they looked at common res­pi­ra­to­ry pathogens like influenza, rhi­novirus­es, and sea­son­al coro­n­avirus­es in their analy­sis.

“While some­one from the gen­er­al public wear­ing a cloth mask is unlike­ly to come into con­tact with the same amount of pathogens as a health­care worker in a high-risk ward, we would still rec­om­mend daily wash­ing of cloth masks in the com­mu­ni­ty,” MacIntyre said.

“COVID-19 is a highly infec­tious virus, and there is still a lot that we don’t know about it, and so it’s impor­tant that we take every pre­cau­tion we can to pro­tect against it and ensure masks are effec­tive.”

The World Health Organization has sug­gest­ed that cloth face masks or cov­er­ings should be washed with laun­dry deter­gent and water that is at least 140 degrees Fahrenheit.

“The results of our analy­sis sup­port this rec­om­men­da­tion,” MacIntyre said. “The clear mes­sage from this research is that cloth masks do work — but once a cloth mask has been worn, it needs to be washed prop­er­ly each time before being worn again, oth­er­wise it stops being effec­tive.”

Ethen Kim Lieser is a Minneapolis-based Science and Tech Editor who has held posts at Google, The Korea Herald, Lincoln Journal Star, AsianWeek, and Arirang TV. Follow or con­tact him on LinkedIn.  

Image: Reuters

National Interest source|articles

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