The effect of facial hair and sex on the dispersal of bacteria below a masked subject


H. A. McLure , Magill Department of Anaesthetics


Surgical face masks prevent the dispersal of bacteria from the upper airway to surfaces immediately in front of and below the face during talking. However, mask wiggling has been reported to increase dermabrasion and bacterial contamination of surfaces immediately below the face. Facial hair and recent shaving may alter the quantity of particles shed by dermabrasion when the mask is wiggled. We investigated the effect of mask wiggling in 10 bearded and 10 clean-shaven male subjects, and 10 female subjects. Wiggling the mask significantly increased the degree of bacterial shedding onto agar plates 15 cm below the lips in bearded males (p = 0.03) and females (p = 0.03), but not in clean-shaven males. At rest without mask wiggling the bearded subjects shed significantly more bacteria than clean-shaven males (p = 0.01) or females (p = 0.001). To reduce the risks of contamination of the sterile field when face masks are worn females and bearded males should avoid wiggling the face mask. Bearded males may also consider removing their beards.