Infectious Disease

Moisture in face masks can present further safety in opposition to COVID-19

February 15, 2021

1 min read

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Disclosure:
Bax, Courtney, and Rodgers are NIH employees.

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According to NIH researchers, the humidity created in face masks may offer additional protection against COVID-19.

“We show that face masks greatly increase the effective humidity of the air we breathe, thereby promoting hydration of the respiratory epithelium, which is known to be beneficial for the immune system,” said the NIH researchers Joseph M. Courtney, PhD, and Adriaan Bax, PhD, wrote in the Biophysical Journal. “Increased humidity of the inhaled air could be an alternative explanation for the now well-established relationship between wearing masks and a lower severity of the disease.”

NIH breathing box

The moisture created in the face masks provides additional protection against COVID-19.
Credit: National Institute for Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, NIH

Courtney and Bax tested N95, three-layer disposable, two-layer cotton-polyester, and heavy cotton masks. They had volunteers inhale into a steel-sealed box to test the effects of moisture on the virus. Moisture can limit the spread of viruses into the lungs by affecting mucociliary clearance, a mechanism that removes mucus and harmful particles it contains, the NIH notes in a press release.

The researchers took measurements at three temperatures ranging from 46 ° F to 98 ° F. When volunteers wore a mask, the moisture build-up in the box decreased significantly. All four mask types tested increased the humidity to different degrees. At low temperatures, the moisturizing effects of masks increased, and the thick cotton mask showed the highest humidity at all temperatures – “about twice as high as a surgical mask,” wrote Courtney and Bax.

“Even as more people are being vaccinated across the country, we must remain vigilant to prevent the spread of the coronavirus that is causing COVID-19.” Griffin P. Rodgers, MD, MACP, A press release said the director of the National Institute for Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases of the NIH, which supported the research. “This research supports the importance of wearing masks as a simple but effective way to protect the people around us and keep us safe from respiratory infections, especially during those winter months when susceptibility to these viruses increases.”

CDC researchers recently reported that wearing two masks can increase protection from SARS-CoV-2, as can modifying surgical masks by knotting the ear loops near the mask edges and tucking in the extra material.

References:

Press release

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