Fabric face masks just as good as surgical ones, say experts


Fake news: The Health Ministry has dismissed claims that fabric face mask use caused a surge in Covid-19 cases.

PETALING JAYA: Health experts have assured that using fabric face masks is just as good as the single-use surgical face masks to prevent Covid-19 infection.

Universiti Putra Malaysia medical epidemiologist Assoc Prof Dr Malina Osman said both types of face masks are equally effective, but added that practising proper hand hygiene is also important.

She said those using fabric face masks should maintain their cleanliness by making sure that they are “clean and dry”.

“Otherwise, there can be contamination and a risk (of infection).

“For surgical face masks, they can only be used once and must be disposed of after being worn, ” she said when contacted yesterday.

The assurance comes following viral messages on social media claiming that the use of fabric masks was causing the recent surge of Covid-19 cases in the country.

The claims have been refuted by the Health Ministry.

National Early Childhood Intervention Council adviser and Malaysian Health Coalition member Datuk Dr Amar Singh said people cannot contract Covid-19 from face masks unless the contaminated outward facing part was reversed and used.

People must ensure that the face masks they use fit their face well, adding that they should also make sure that there are “no leaks” on the side of their masks when worn, Dr Amar said.

“The fit of a face mask is as important as the material, and all face masks work to a certain degree, ” he said, pointing to a study that was done to evaluate the filtration efficiency of different types of face masks.

Dr Amar said those who are not frontliners should use fabric face masks, adding that single-use surgical masks should be restricted to medical personnel and high-risk individuals, especially those past 60 years of age and those with comorbidity (more than one illness or disease occurring in a person at the same time).

“The average person and children should just use the World Health Organisation-compliant fabric mask which can be washed and reused, otherwise there will be massive plastic pollution.

“Use a good fabric face mask that follows the WHO’s criteria. If it follows the criteria, it is good, ” he added.

Under the guidelines provided by WHO, non-medical face masks such as fabric masks should have three layers: outer, middle and inner.

The guidelines state that the outermost layer should be a hydrophobic material that repels droplets and moisture.

The middle layer of the mask acts as a filter which should be made of polypropylene fabric.

The inner layer, which comes in direct contact with a person’s face, should be made of hydrophilic material which easily absorbs droplets from exhaled breath.

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