Coronavirus: 'Deadly masks' claims debunked

Report could come out any day now

Face coverings are now compulsory for customers in shops and supermarkets in England.

The mandatory wearing of coverings and masks has been polarising opinion for weeks, particularly in the United States.

The BBC's anti-disinformation team has been investigating false and misleading claims about the health risks of face masks and coverings being shared on social media.

Claim: Masks deprive your body of oxygen

Verdict: False claim

One of the most common themes in misleading posts surrounding the use of masks is that they limit the amount of oxygen getting into the body.

People have shared a graphic titled "danger of a face mask" and say this "may lead to death".

Report could come out any day now

But the breathable materials recommended for face masks worn properly won't inhibit your breathing.

Breathlessness is a sign that your body is deprived of oxygen - known as hypoxia.

"Thin paper or cloth masks will not lead to hypoxia. Surgeons operate for hours wearing them. They don't get these problems," says Prof Keith Neal, an infectious disease expert.

The WHO says: "The prolonged use of medical masks when properly worn, does not cause CO2 intoxication nor oxygen deficiency.

"While wearing a medical mask, make sure it fits properly and that it is tight enough to allow you to breathe normally. Do not re-use a disposable mask and always change it as soon as it gets damp."

These oxygen-depleting claims have appeared in many different languages: English, German, Serbian and Hebrew Facebook posts alongside the same stock image of a toddler in a mask.

An article on a Nigerian news site, originally translated from Spanish, carried the claim back in April and has been shared 100,000 times.

Claim: Masks can cause carbon dioxide poisoning

Verdict: No evidence to support this claim

A post being widely shared on Facebook has lifted a medical diagram from Wikipedia showing the "symptoms of carbon dioxide toxicity".

The page, which has been shared many thousands of times, has then been re-edited to suggest a link to mask-wearing.

Report could come out any day now

This modified version claims that wearing a mask leads to "re-breathing your exhaled CO2".

We've seen lots of posts alerting people to something called hypercapnia - where there's too much carbon dioxide in the blood.

"This simply won't happen unless there is an air-tight fit and you rebreathe your air," says Prof Neal.

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