North Carolina legislators repost debunked claim that face masks spread lung infection

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Friday, June 19, 2020
North Carolina legislators repost debunked claim that face masks spread lung infection
Two North Carolina legislators recently shared a post claiming face coverings can lead to a lung infection, but doctors said the post doesn't make sense.

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- When that crazy uncle shares an obvious myth on Twitter or Facebook you may just brush it off, but do you feel the same way when it's shared by elected officials, specifically members of the state legislature?

Recently state representative Michael Speciale, a Republican from Craven County, apparently cut and pasted a viral Facebook post about face masks causing a lung condition called pleurisy.

"It does not make any logical or medical sense," said Dr. Momen Wahidi, a pulmonologist, or lung doctor, at Duke University Hospital.

We asked him to look at Speciale's post, one of several similar social media claims linking masks and pleurisy.

Speciale's post said it's written by a woman named Jennifer Brown but there is no link to the woman's Facebook page or anything that identifies her as a real person.

In the post, Brown said her teenage daughter is a grocery store worker who became very ill and that doctors not only determined the teen had pleurisy, but that it was caused by the mask she was required to wear, forcing her to breathe her own bacteria 40 hours a week.

But Wahidi said our lungs are specially equipped to handle the bacteria we inhale and exhale. "We breathe bacteria and chemicals all the time," he said. "Our lungs have a defense mechanism and can fight bacteria."

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Wahidi added that there's no logical reason why a mask would contribute to a lung infection.

"There's no logical mechanism that wearing a face mask will cause you to have pleurisy or inflammation in your lungs," he said.

He pointed out that long before the COVID-19 pandemic, many healthcare professionals were wearing masks every single workday.

"A surgeon or a nurse, you could be wearing a mask for eight hours, twelve hours," he said.

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The post also said another cause of the pleurisy was that the mask forced the teen to breathe in her own carbon dioxide, but Wahidi said masks don't do that.

"There's never been any reports of health effects or retention of carbon dioxide or lack of oxygen," he said.

Another legislator, state representative Larry Pittman, a Republican minister from Cabarrus County, shared Speciale's post.

Pittman added commentary to the top of his post, writing, "This is what you get when socialist bureaucrats try to fix things and control people, without regard for reality or basic human rights."

But the reality is that a simple Google search would have suffocated this mask myth: there are numerous news stories and fact-check articles that show the claim is false.

While Wahidi wouldn't directly say whether elected officials should be held to a higher standard when it comes to posting falsehoods, he believes we all have a responsibility when it comes to posting about the pandemic on social media.

He said we should "Try to rely on medicine and science," and added, "I'd rather not retweet or repost anything that I don't have enough knowledge about."

Wahidi said that's especially true when perpetuating myths about something as dangerous as COVID-19.

ABC11 repeatedly reached out to both lawmakers but got no response.

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