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Debunked: No, face masks 'sprayed with Teflon' are not causing flu-like symptoms

This claim has been shared widely on Facebook recently.

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POSTS SHARED RECENTLY on Facebook have claimed that single-use blue face masks are “sprayed with PTFE”, otherwise known as Teflon, which is alleged to cause flu-like symptoms. 

Although it is true that some face coverings are either sprayed with polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) or have a PTFE filter included, it does not cause these kinds of symptoms through normal everyday wear. 

These symptoms can be caused by a rare disease spurred on by PTFE being heated to a high temperature and emitting a fume. Mask wearing would not typically involve this, and PTFE on its own does not cause these symptoms. 

The claim 

face mask claim

This claim has been shared widely on Facebook in recent weeks. 

One Facebook post shared more than 140 times said: “Those blue masks that the stores are offering you and insisting you strap on when you enter …. did you know that they’re sprayed with PTFE (polytetrafluoroethylene) which is a synthetic fluoride found in teflon. Another nail in your coffin.”

Another post shared nearly 240 times said blue face masks are “sprayed with ptfe which is fluoride, carbon and Teflon and causes flu like symptoms”. 

The symptoms and circumstances described in these posts are referring to a relatively rare disease called polymer fume fever, known informally as Teflon flu.

This is a disease caused by the inhalation of products as a result of the thermal degradation of PTFE. This is the official term for Teflon, the brand name for a synthetic material used to coat cookware such as pots and pans to keep them non-stick.  

Essentially, if PTFE gets too hot it can produce products which cause rapid flu-like symptoms to develop if inhaled.

People with this disease show symptoms such as fever, shivering, sore throat and weakness. 

These are similar to the common symptoms of Covid-19 – fever, cough, shortness of breath and fatigue. 

A case report on one incident of a man who breathed in fumes from a smoking pan said the man’s symptoms of cough, fever and difficulty breathing were speculated as being triggered by the inhalation of fumes from the pan after it got too hot. 

The man had put a Teflon-coated pan on the stove top, fell asleep for five hours and awoke to find the pan scorched. 

The man took the burnt pan to the sink and ran it under the tap. This caused an explosive vapour to come off the surface of the pan. He inhaled this vapour and several hours later, began to show flu-like symptoms.  He went to the hospital and was treated with oxygen inhalation and his symptoms disappeared after three days. 

The study said inhalation of vapour from a scorched pan could lead to “influenza-type symptoms”. 

This gives an idea of what would be involved in order to experience these symptoms, and why wearing masks is unlikely to cause them. 

Masks

Most face masks, including blue surgical face masks, do not use PTFE. Surgical masks are most commonly made of a type of plastic called polypropylene. 

John Rice, the managing director of Irema, a company which produces medical face masks, responded to a query from TheJournal.ie about this issue.

“There is no spraying with PTFE in our masks and I have not heard of it with any other certified medical masks either,” Rice said. 

Medical face masks are made up of three layers – an inner layer, a filter layer and an outer layer. 

The inner layer is made of spunbond material, which is a fabric made in one continuous process. The white side of the mask, it is soft on the skin and has no filtration purposes. 

The second later is the filter layer. This is made of meltblown material which gives it good filtration properties. 

The outer layer, the side that is generally blue or another colour to indicate it is the outside, is also made of spunbond material. Similar to the inside, this has no filtration purposes. 

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Rice said the middle filter layer is the “critical component” of the face mask. 

It is not a robust material, capable of being used on its own, hence the construction with an inner and outer layer to give it strength and functionality.  

There are some face masks available which are sprayed with PTFE or contain a PTFE filter layer.

But, as outlined earlier, this in itself does not cause flu-like symptoms – these occur only when the PTFE is heated, fumes are released and breathed in. 

There is no evidence that a person wearing a mask with a PTFE filter or coating in a normal manner would contract flu-like symptoms. 

*******

There is a lot of false news and scaremongering being spread in Ireland at the moment about coronavirus. Here are some practical ways for you to assess whether the messages that you’re seeing – especially on WhatsApp – are true or not.

STOP, THINK AND CHECK

Look at where it’s coming from. Is it someone you know? Do they have a source for the information (e.g. the HSE website) or are they just saying that the information comes from someone they know? A lot of the false news being spread right now is from people claiming that messages from ‘a friend’ of theirs. Have a look yourself – do a quick Google search and see if the information is being reported elsewhere. 

Secondly, get the whole story, not just a headline. A lot of these messages have got vague information (“all the doctors at this hospital are panicking”) and don’t mention specific details. This is often – but not always a sign – that it may not be accurate. 

Finally, see how you feel after reading it. A lot of these false messages are designed to make people feel panicked. They’re deliberately manipulating your feelings to make you more likely to share it. If you feel panicked after reading something, check it out and see if it really is true.

TheJournal.ie’s FactCheck is a signatory to the International Fact-Checking Network’s Code of Principles. You can read it here. For information on how FactCheck works, what the verdicts mean, and how you can take part, check out our Reader’s Guide here. You can read about the team of editors and reporters who work on the factchecks here

Have you gotten a message on WhatsApp or Facebook or Twitter about coronavirus that you’re not sure about and want us to check it out? Message or mail us and we’ll look into debunking it. WhatsApp: 085 221 4696 or Email: answers@thejournal.ie 

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