FACT CHECK: Viral Post Claims People Can Contract Legionnaires’ Disease From Wearing Face Masks

Brad Sylvester | Fact Check Editor

A viral Facebook post claims people can contract Legionnaires’ disease from frequently wearing face masks.

Verdict: False

Medical experts say there is no scientific basis for the claim. The disease is primarily contracted through drinking contaminated water or breathing in contaminated water droplets.

Fact Check:

Since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended in early April that people wear face coverings in public settings, misinformation about face masks has circulated on social media.

This particular post falsely claims wearing a mask “every day all day long” causes people to contract Legionnaires’ disease, a severe form of pneumonia caused by inhaling Legionella bacteria. More than 4,000 users had shared the post at the time of publication.

There is no scientific basis for the claim, according to medical experts. Legionella.org, a nonprofit organization that raises awareness about the disease, states Legionnaires’ disease comes from inhaling water droplets containing Legionella bacteria, not from wearing face masks. (RELATED: Is It Illegal To Wear A Face Mask While Legally Carrying A Concealed Weapon In North Carolina?)

“Legionella bacteria is transmitted by aspirating drinking water or breathing in water droplets,” Legionella.org states. “Legionella is not spread from person-to-person in respiratory droplets nor does the bacteria survive on dry surfaces. Your mask would not be a source of transmission for the Legionella bacteria.”

“There is no way that the environment that would be produced from a damp mask is going to be suitable for Legionella to grow in any kind of quality to cause Legionnaires’ disease,” Dr. Jonathan Parsons, a pulmonologist at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, told The Associated Press.

The bacterium that causes Legionnaires’ disease primarily spreads through the inhalation of mist from infected water sources like air-conditioning cooling towers and hot tubs, according to the CDC. The disease can also be caused by aspirating infected water while drinking.

“Many studies and case reports regarding legionnaires have been published over the years,” Hugh Pennington, emeritus professor of bacteriology at the University of Aberdeen, told Reuters. “I am not aware of any that say that mask wearing is a risk factor for developing the disease.”

This isn’t the first time the use of face masks has been erroneously linked to a medical malady. Check Your Fact recently debunked the claim that wearing one for eight or more hours can cause pleurisy, a condition in which the tissue layers lining the lungs become inflamed.

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Brad Sylvester

Fact Check Editor
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