Masks should be washed, changed frequently to prevent harmful microbes

Masks that are worn repeatedly and for prolonged periods need to be washed often as they contain microbes from our skin and respiratory droplets, a study has noted.

An experiment by testing laboratory Eurofins showed that bacteria, yeast and mould were found in greater amounts when a mask had been worn for a longer period.

The experiment involved disposable and reusable masks that were worn for six hours and 12 hours for the purpose of comparison.

They were then tested for total bacterial count, yeast and mould, as well as Staphylococcus aureus, which is commonly linked to skin infections, and Pseudomonas aeruginosa, which is linked to rashes.

Though the S. aureus and P. aeruginosa strains were not present in any of the mask samples tested, levels of yeast and mould as well as the total bacterial counts were higher on the masks that had been worn for 12 hours.

The reusable masks generally contained more microbes than the disposable ones.

Microbiologists told The Straits Times that the warm and moist micro-environment within all masks tends to be conducive for microbes to thrive.

But they noted that not all microbes are necessarily harmful.

Further tests will have to be conducted to determine the kind of bacteria found on the masks and whether they could potentially cause diseases or skin conditions.

Dr John Common, principal investigator at the Skin Research Institute of Singapore at the Agency for Science, Technology and Research, said S. aureus could produce a number of toxins that may sometimes be detrimental to human beings.

It is classified as a pathobiont, which means it could cause harm under certain conditions.

For instance, it is associated with atopic dermatitis, especially in people who may have a skin barrier that is more permeable, or have fewer natural defence mechanisms in their skin to reduce infections, said Dr Common.