Fact Check

Do These Photos Show Staph Infections Caused by Face Masks?

"Having a staph infection [from wearing a face mask] is a pretty rare occurrence, and it usually involves multiple things for it to happen."

Published Feb. 25, 2021

 (Getty Images/Stock photo)
Image courtesy of Getty Images/Stock photo
Photographs depict persons who developed staph infections from wearing masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

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In February 2021, a collage image circulated via social media purported to show several persons who had developed staphylococcus infections (also known as staph infections) from wearing face masks, as many persons around the world were doing at the time to help prevent the spread of coronavirus:

However, none of the photographs used in that collage image displayed anyone who had developed a staph infection as the result of wearing a face mask. They were all repurposed pictures depicting different types of medical afflictions appearing on patients' faces.

The first photograph (in the top left-hand side of the collage) was used in an August 2020 article published by the French news outlet Le Monde of a 12-year-old whose mother claimed she had developed an allergic reaction after wearing a mask for several days while on vacation.

The photograph in the bottom left-hand portion of the collage is a stock photograph offered by Getty Images showing a young child with varicella (commonly known as chicken pox).

The photograph in the top right-hand portion of the collage appears on the website of The Royal Children's Hospital Melbourne, and shows a child with eczema herpeticum, an infection usually caused by the herpes simplex 1 virus (which produces cold sores).

The middle photograph in the right-hand column appeared in a March 2020 tweet depicting abrasions and chafings on the faces of doctors and nurses who wore protective face masks and equipment during long hours of work in intensive care:

The photograph on the bottom right-hand corner of the collage was published on the Medical News Today website in April 2018 as an example of malar rash, a phenomenon that "can occur with many different diseases and conditions, from sunburn to lupus" and is "most often seen in people with rosacea."

As for the issue of whether wearing face masks can cause staph infections, Dr. Payal Kohli told Pennsylvania TV station WPMT that it was possible but rare:

Dr. Kohli explained 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.

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