Why buying face masks online may be a health hazard
Wearing fabric masks made at home or bought over the internet may actually increase the risk of health problems, warned a senior lecturer in environmental health.
The warning comes as online retailer Buy from the Bush prohibits the sale of online masks and asks sellers to report any non-compliant vendors.
On March 19, Facebook advised it would ban listings for sanitiser, disinfectant, COVID-19 testing kits and masks in order to protect against inflated prices and predatory behaviour.
And this week, the World Health Organisation pitched in, saying that "wearing of masks by the mass population" may have an adverse impact.
CQUniversity's Dr Lisa Bricknell said she was glad to hear the retailers had taken a responsible approach as many people remain resistant to expert advice.
But Facebook posts from Central Queensland home-based businesses reveal they are still working around the clock to fill face mask orders which sell out quickly.
Sadly, what may be a welcome source of income for local seamstresses during difficult times may also pose a public health risk.
Dr Bricknell said cloth masks were shown to allow 95 per cent of pathogenic particles to pass through, unlike surgical grade masks which cut that down to about 44 per cent.
"The fact cloth masks can become damp more quickly and remain damp for longer means that pathogens will remain ineffective for longer than on medical masks," she said.
"And medical masks are disposable so, if you wear any kind of mask, you have to dispose of it immediately after wearing it."
Yet businesses are offering cloth masks in bold colours and designs, in different sizes for adults and children.
"In short, homemade masks are not effective and may even be harmful because it may lead you to believe that you don't need to maintain the 1.5m distance, wash your hands, or change the mask as often as you need to," Dr Bricknell said.
"And even if you can get hold of medical masks, they're in short supply at the moment so it's much better to leave them for the health professionals.
"And whatever so-called medical masks you can source online, they're unlikely to comply with the appropriate standards so, again, you're putting yourself and others at risk."
Fellow CQUniversity Professor of Nursing, Margaret McAllister agreed that cloth masks were associated with a higher risk of infection.
At the best, she says, they can provide a "positive psycho-social effect" in reminding wearers not to touch their face and others to keep their distance.
But they are no replacement for abiding by health warnings and advice.
As the government imposes even further public lockdowns, health professionals continue to work around the clock under conditions which can't guarantee their safety.
"The masks used in health care settings are made to Australian and international standards for the type of material and the size of the weave so they can be sterilised and hug the face," Dr Bricknell said.
"However they don't necessarily have the weave to exclude very small viruses and, even if they do, you could drag the virus through the mask with your next inhalation."
"No mask is more effective than following the same advice health professionals from all over the world are telling us."
• Stay at home;
• If you do have to go out, maintain a 1.5m distance from anyone else;
• While you're out, don't touch anything that you don't absolutely have to;
• If you do have to touch something, sanitise or wash your hands as soon as possible after you've touched it,
• And capture sneezes with a fresh tissue or (as a last resort) block it with your elbow, and wash or sanitise your hands immediately after