Videos making false and misleading claims about masks are getting wide popularity in India. While one video claims that wearing masks is dangerous, others promote ‘herbal masks’ to purify the air we breathe in. All these claims are false.
By Varadarajan Ananthakrishnan
Face masks are intended to stop the spread of COVID-19 but there is growing misinformation around masks. Various Youtube videos gaining popularity in India list a number of adverse health effects of wearing a mask. Among other things, these videos are promoting “herbal masks” that use herbs and other kitchen ingredients with a claim to help breathe better. Some claims are false while others are misleading. We fact-checked three such videos below:
Claim: One video, with hundreds of views, claims that if you add neem leaves, mint leaves, betel leaves of holy basil to a pocket made within the mask, the air you breathe gets cleaner and better.
Fact: Neem leaves and mint leaves are known to purify the air when they are a part of the plant. When they are inserted into the mask pockets, they clearly wilt soon. There are no demonstrated benefits of these herbs inside the masks.
Dr. Shimna Azeez, Medical Officer and lecturer at Government Medical College, Kerala said, “ It gives you a nice aroma, nice smell that is it. It doesn’t purify the air. How come they can purify the air? Anything you keep inside the mask, it gives you a fresh aroma. You wear a jasmine garland, you feel good. Any such leaf will give you aroma, you feel better, but it won’t purify the air you are breathing in. “
There are quite a few instances of DIY videos of home-made masks that can be seen on social media. These videos claim to make an inexpensive mask that can help prevent coronavirus infection.
Claim: A video, also with hundreds of views demonstrates how to make a mask out of crude elements like a plastic funnel and a velvet sponge, with black cumin and camphor with the claim that it will provide protection against coronavirus.
Fact: Not only a plastic funnel with a velvet sponge will be very uncomfortable to be worn for a long period of time, but it can also be dangerous too. This apart, there is no evidence that breathing in camphor or black cumin has any role in preventing coronavirus infection.
Another video is also doing the rounds on social media that demonstrates the preparation of a mask with a cardboard birthday cap and a peepal leaf claiming that this increases the oxygen flow.
The real danger in these DIY (do it yourself) masks is the fact that since these are “home-made”, a section of the population who cannot afford the regular masks, might go for these crude masks. Unfortunately, these masks will not offer them any protection against the virus and will make them susceptible to infection.
Also, these kinds of crude, home-made masks are in direct contravention to WHO advisory on masks that stipulates standards for the mask's material, the way they have to be worn, and how to use them.
Claim: One of the claims about masks that are worn for a long time is that the masks make you ill, and they build carbon dioxide in your body.
Fact: This is probably true for masks not worn properly or ill-fitting masks. A properly fitted mask ensures proper airflow while protecting the mouth and the nose. Dr. Maulik Patel, consultant physician at Divine Life Hospital and Managing Director at Medicaid Healthcare LLP in Kutch explained “The dose of carbon dioxide we might rebreathe is quickly and easily eliminated by both respiratory and metabolic systems of the body. Although in some cases there may be some discomfort viral transmission is more problematic than the negative effect of wearing a mask.“
As the world struggles with the pandemic, wearing masks can help slow the spread of the virus, and hence the pandemic. Questioning the use, and suggesting “remedies” and alternatives is equivalent to putting many lives in danger – something the world cannot afford.