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CDC Weighs In – Cloth Face Masks and Legionnaires

Posted in Legionella,Legionnaire's disease,Our Blog on August 7, 2020

You may have a homemade cloth face mask. Maybe, you learned how to make a face mask out of an easy DIY pattern you found online. You clever reader. It could be that you bought disposable masks, your time matters. I get it. Here’s what we know about Face Masks and Legionnaires disease.

If you’ve chosen to follow the COVID-19 safety guidelines, it’s important to keep your face clean. More than that, you need to protect your lungs. With face masks considered the responsible choice, let’s look at a looming question.

Can you get sick from an unwashed face mask?

It’s a rising concern after ever-changing standards as science understands the disease. A few slips of the wrong words and a front-page story is made. Look at this scenario:

Earlier this month a speaker representing NCH Healthcare stated 4 people were hospitalized with Legionnaires due to the use of face masks. However, NCH CEO Paul Hiltz corrected that misinformation by stating there were no cases of Legionnaires in the system at all.

Confusing, right?

This doesn’t mean Legionnaires isn’t connected to COVID, but masks most likely aren’t the problem. Okay, yes, if you wash your face mask and wear it wet, you could breathe in stagnate-bacteria riddled water harboring legionella. So, don’t do that.

Yes, maybe, with a collection of mistakes you could get Legionnaires disease via an old, water-logged, face mask that you found in the bottom of your laundry hamper. However, more likely the smell would keep you from strapping that to your mouth and nose. It’s more of a possibility to contract Legionnaires from an improperly cleaned CPAP machine or humidifier. That’s because it’s a problem you don’t know is there until you suffer the consequences of it.

Aerosols are a taxi for Legionnaires. In fact, wearing a mask is the best way to avoid Legionnaires in that scenario. However, since Aerosols are everywhere, like air conditioning cooling towers, hot tubs, or showers, it’s unlikely you’ll know exactly when to don the mask.  That shouldn’t matter at the moment, because we’re masks anyway, right? I mean, I’d hope so.

Oh, so there’s more than one reason to wear a mask?

Yes! I see you’re with me on this. Let’s investigate a little more.

There’s an unintended consequence of the lockdowns and that is the dormant water in buildings closed due to the Coronavirus pandemic. Legionella is a bacterium that loves to live in standing water. It also happens to take rides on water droplets. So, a wrong inhale could mean a new place for Legionella to settle, and that happens to be in your lungs. Without patrons visiting establishments, systems weren’t used enough to prevent a bacteria infestation. Though Legionella can’t be passed from person to person like Covid-19, there are some symptomatic similarities.

Coronavirus has caused an increase in Legionnaires Disease; however, a mask mandate due to Corona can help protect you from this problem. At this point, you not only need to wear the mask to protect yourself and others from Covid spread, you should also be wearing one because the building you enter might not have done the proper maintenance to remove this bacteria from there temporarily unused pipes.

The symptoms of the two diseases are incredibly similar. Both are detrimental to the lungs and are a higher threat to those with immunocompromised systems. They come with high-fevers, labored breathing, and uncontrollable cough. Legionnaires diagnosis can be missed in the search for Corona infections. There will likely be more cases of Legionnaires as the stay-at-home orders are lifted.

CDC Says

CDC says people at increased risk of developing Legionnaires’ disease, such as those with weakened immune systems, should consult with a medical provider regarding participation in flushing, cooling tower cleaning, or other activities that may generate aerosols. Wearing a half-face air-purifying respirator equipped with an N95 filter, or an N95 filtering face piece, may be appropriate in enclosed spaces where aerosol generation is likely. Respirators must be used in accordance with a comprehensive respiratory protection program, which includes fit testing, training, and medical clearance ahead of their use.

So, it’s settled. Face masks are probably a good idea whether it be for Corona, or until maintenance can be assured to all those visiting establishments. Now, let’s get to the goods. Here’s the best ways to wash your masks. Do you think Batman had this problem too? Nah, I’m sure Alfred had it handled.

Cloth Face masks:

  • In the washing machine:
    • Regular laundry detergent will do just fine. Use the setting for the material type.
    • Dry fully before wearing. I mean really, have some patience and keep it drying until it feels like it’s never touched water.
  • Washing by hand:
    • Use 1/3 cup of bleach to 1 gallon of room temperature water.
    • Soak the masks for 5 minutes in the solution.
    • Rinse thoroughly with cold water.
    • Note: Read the label on your bleach. Not all bleach products are for disinfectant. This is often the case with color-safe bleaches. Use disinfectant bleach only and check the expiration date.
    • Once again, dry that thing. Keep the moisture away from your lungs.
  • Speaking of drying.
    • You can air dry it but shoot for a hot day with full sun. You don’t want a waterlogged cloth attached to your nose and mouth.

On a personal note from a fellow human in pandemic times:

Listen, I hear you. We’re all tired of the onslaught of what-to-dos and what-not-to-dos. Try not to let it overwhelm you. The coronavirus pandemic will likely cause a domino effect of consequences we could not foresee. I’m willing to bet there will be more that makes you say, “Seriously?”

So, try to adapt the best you can. Hang in there. Think of it as an opportunity to do things you probably should have been doing but didn’t know about. Like washing your showerhead monthly. You don’t want to waste that expensive skin cleansing sugar-scrub by mixing it with legionnaire water.

Maybe, just maybe, without Corona you wouldn’t know about these things. In fact, once I’m done here, I’m thinking I’ll go run the faucet in the downstairs bathroom for a bit just to make sure things don’t get stagnate. After that, I’ll celebrate my adulthood moment and applaud you as well.

As always make your food safe, with a careful focus on your water this time – keep Face Masks and Legionnaires disease in mind. I’ll challenge you today to also keep your mind safe in these trying times. Spoil yourself for a minute, I did mention a sugar scrub. I’m thinking, it’s time for some self-care.

By: Heaven Bassett