The Infection Chain – How do germs spread from the face mask to hands and elsewhere?

by Victorian Keel on February 03, 2022

What do we actually do when we put a mask in our trouser pocket or handbag? Do we cause more harm than good? Curious? Read further in our science-based longread / shortread series.

Wearing a mask you are protecting yourself or feed desease!

Wearing a face mask in public is one of the best preventive measures against covid-19. That is a scientific fact!
However, the protective barrier only works if we change it often and use it properly. Inappropriate use can often cause more harm than good.

The infection chain that begins with touching the mask can spread various germs all over the body. Here’s how it all works.

How do Germs get on your mask?

Since you breathe through your mask, its surface is usually moist and warm. That makes it a perfect breeding ground for all kinds of pathogens.

The face mask suffers exposure to germs from both inside and outside. The outer surface may contain environmental pollutants and airborne germs. Putting it on and taking it off frequently throughout the day with your hands doesn't help much either. It only makes the situation worse.

All of this together turns your mask into a rather unsanitary place, a location from which new infections may emerge.

How does the infection chain work?

You are most likely to spread the germs with your hands after touching the mask. However, if its surface is dirty and contaminated, you may inhale the germs into your throat and lungs.

The lifespan of viruses and bacteria on human skin is very short due to our immune system and the barrier function of our skin. But, they live significantly longer on fabric and hard surfaces.

Throughout the day, we touch a variety of potentially contaminated surfaces such as doorbells, elevator buttons, banknotes, and even our smartphones. That’s why it is vital to avoid touching your face and eyes with non-sanitized hands, as well as put your mask in your poket or table to break the infection chain.

Breaking Infection Chain

Simple tips with a big effect

  1. Sanitize your hands before putting on the mask and after you take it off
  2. Store your mask in an air permeable mask case, where the mask can dry properly or an antiviral mask case which also should be air permeable!
  3. Always wash a NEW reusable mask before first use
  4. Wash reusable masks frequently in hot water
  5. Avoid reusing disposable masks
  6. Throw away a dirty or wet mask
  7. Avoid touching your mask

The bottom line
Improper mask use can set off an infection chain that may harm your health and those around you. Please, follow the advice of the mask manufacturers to ensure your safety. Use an antiviral, air-permeable mask case to prevent the bacteria and fungal spores from multiplying on the mask.
Take care of yourself and your loved ones!



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  • Chia SE, Koh D, Fones C, et al. Appropriate use of personal protective equipment among healthcare workers in public sector hospitals and primary healthcare polyclinics during the SARS outbreak in Singapore. Occup Environ Med. 2005;62(7):473-477. doi:10.1136/oem.2004.015024
  • Azap A, Erdinç FŞ. Medical mask or N95 respirator: When and how to use?. Turk J Med Sci. 2020;50(SI-1):633-637. Published 2020 Apr 21. doi:10.3906/sag-2004-199
  • Greatorex JS, Digard P, Curran MD, et al. Survival of influenza A(H1N1) on materials found in households: implications for infection control. PLoS One. 2011;6(11):e27932. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0027932

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