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Experts: Do not steam your face mask for reuse

There’s a video circulating online that suggests that the one-time disposable surgical face mask can be reused. It shows a purported doctor advising people that they can sterilise their face mask by steaming it at 100-degrees Celsius for more than 10 minutes. The claim is said to be misleading and experts have warned that the surgical face masks should be used only once.

In the original video which is in mandarin, the man in a lab coat claims that the mask can be reused up to five times as long as it isn’t worn at high-risk locations. He also warned not to use microwaves or ovens to heat up their masks.

Other medical experts are urging the public not to steam their disposable masks as it can damage them. Reusing an old mask can also increase their risk of infection as harmful bacteria and viruses can remain on the surface.

What’s more disturbing is that a Hong Kong lawmaker, Ann Chiang, had shared the same video online on her Facebook account and it has already garnered more than a million views. She shared that this is a “quick fix” as masks are currently in short supply. The Centre for Health Protection in Hong Kong had refuted such claims and have also warned against reusing the surgical mask.

According to Dr. Ho Pak-Leung, a microbiologist and director of the Centre for Infection at the University of Hong Kong, the video is fake news. He added that once a surgical mask is worn, it may be contaminated by your own or other virus/bacteria as it contains saliva, nasal secretion and sputum. He shared that surgical masks are just like tissue paper, which are meant for single use. He gave an example that if you sneeze into a tissue paper, you won’t want to steam it or air dry it and then use it for a second time.

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The doctor stresses that this isn’t a logical way of resolving the shortage of disposable surgical masks. He said that any attempt to reuse a mask may lead to self inoculation by the virus or bacteria on the surface. A WHO spokesperson has also commented that steam can potentially compromise the filter efficiency of the surgical mask.

According to the WHO, wearing a medical mask is one of the prevention measures to limit the spread of certain respiratory disease, however, using it alone is not sufficient to provide an adequate level of protection. They emphasised that if masks are to be used, the measure must be combined with hand hygiene and other infection prevention and control (IPC) measures to prevent human to human transmission of the 2019-nCov.

Recently, the Deputy Health Minister, Dr. Lee Boon Chye and said that those that don’t display any symptoms of the virus are not required to wear face masks as the virus is still contained from spreading. For those that are having fever, cold and cough, should wear masks while everyone else should continue to maintain good hygiene by washing their hands often using soap and detergent. He added that if you don’t wear masks properly and if you touch your face, there is still a risk of infection.


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Alexander Wong