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Coronavirus cloth masks work, but only if you do so after putting them on, the study finds



Fabric face masks are useful for protecting against the new coronavirus, but only if you wash them after each use, according to a new study that found that reusing these face covers over and over without washing them can increase the risk of contamination.

Additionally, masks must be washed at high temperatures after each use to ensure they are fully decontaminated, according to analysis from the Kirby Institute at the University of New South Wales in Sydney which was recently published in the BMJ Open.

The World Health Organization (WHO) states that cloth masks should be washed with laundry detergent and water at at least 60 degrees Celsius, or about 140 degrees Fahrenheit. (iStock)

The World Health Organization (WHO) states that cloth masks should be washed with laundry detergent and water at at least 60 degrees Celsius – or around 140 degrees Fahrenheit. (iStock)

The analysis is based on a randomized controlled trial published in 2015 that examined the effectiveness of tissue face masks in preventing viral infections from common respiratory pathogens such as influenza, rhinoviruses (common cold viruses) and seasonal coronaviruses. . The study at the time found that two-layer cotton cloth masks “were not as effective as surgical masks in a hospital setting and that they potentially increased the risk of infection when compared to the absence of a mask,” according to a statement. print from the University. However, the researchers who conducted the new analysis now argue that the way the cloth masks were washed may explain why they misbehaved in the original study.

More specifically, the so-called “washing data” was self-reported by healthcare workers in Vietnam in 2011 who at the time worked in “high-risk wards in a healthcare setting,” according to the press release. The study, according to the researchers who conducted the analysis, is the only randomized controlled study “ever conducted on the efficacy of cloth masks in preventing viral infections”.

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Most of the health care workers in the original study – about 77 percent – reported washing their masks by hand. But in the analysis, the researchers found that healthcare workers’ risk of infection more than doubled when their cloth masks were washed this way compared to when the masks were washed in hospital washing machines.

Furthermore, “There was no significant difference in infection between [health care workers] who wore cloth masks washed in the hospital laundry compared to medical masks, ”concluded the analysis.

Indeed: “Given the potential implications for health care workers or community members using cloth masks during the pandemic, we did an in-depth analysis of 2011 data on whether health workers in our study washed their masks every day and, if so, how their masks washed. We found that if the cloth masks were washed in the hospital laundry, they were as effective as a surgical mask, “Professor Raina MacIntyre of the University said in a statement. from New South Wales, Sydney, who conducted the study.

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Researchers in the original study did not test for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, as the virus did not exist at the time. But the researchers who conducted the analysis at BMJ Open argue that past findings can still be applied to the new virus.

“Both cloth and surgical masks should be considered ‘contaminated’ after use,” MacIntyre said. “Unlike surgical masks, which are disposed of after use, tissue masks are reused. While it may be tempting to use the same mask multiple days in a row or to wash or clean it quickly, our research suggests this increases the risk of contamination. ”

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“This has become a sticking point for the cloth mask debate between pro and anti-mask groups, both of which have focused on our 2015 study in their arguments, but a more detailed look at the washing data suggests that hand washing made the cloth masks riskier than the cloth mask itself. When we analyze the data in this new way, comparing washing in the washing machine to hand washing, a washing machine washed cloth mask is as effective as a surgical mask. ” MacIntyre continued. “There is a lot of research into the design, fabric and construction of the goggles, but washing is also crucial for protection.”

The World Health Organization (WHO) states that cloth face masks should be washed with laundry detergent and water at at least 60 degrees Celsius – or around 140 degrees Fahrenheit.

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

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