Fact check: People have not been developing antibiotic-resistant pneumonia from wearing face masks

A Facebook post has falsely claimed that some people have been admitted to intensive care units (ICU) after their face masks caused them to develop a strain of pneumonia that cannot be treated with antibiotics.

Reuters Fact Check. REUTERS/Axel Schmidt

The meme, which has been posted to Facebook on numerous accounts (here, here, here, here ), has been seen by thousands of people, and suggests that face coverings are dangerous.

It reads: “Mask wearers are now arriving in ICU with antibiotic resistant strains of pneumonia from breathing in the pathogenic organisms they were meant to exhale.”

This is a false assertion. Firstly, Reuters has been unable to locate any reports of people being admitted to intensive care due to a pneumonia infection that has been directly linked to mask wearing.

Secondly, once relevant pathogens have been inhaled, exhaling them doesn’t mean an infection can be avoided.

Pneumonia, an illness that results in the inflammation of the lungs, can be caused by a number of things, including bacterial infection, a virus such as coronavirus, and a rare fungal infection (

Reuters has previously debunked claims that masks can cause bacterial and viral infections such a pleurisy and coronavirus, which are linked to pneumonia (here, here) – and fungal infections, too (here).

Speaking to Reuters specifically about fungal infections, Dr. Thomas Nash, an internist, pulmonologist, and infectious disease specialist at New York Presbyterian Hospital in New York City, said: “The only thing that hits the mask is what you breathe out,” as he explained that healthy people “don’t exhale fungus.” 

He added that someone who already has a fungal infection in their lungs could possibly contaminate their own mask, but not the other way around.

A global team of public health experts at Learnaboutcovid19 also told Reuters there was “no evidence” to suggest face masks can increase the chance of developing pneumonia, “or any other bacterial, fungal or viral infection in the lungs”.

The statement added: “In fact, according to a study published in the Preventive Medicine journal, wearing face masks is shown to protect people against bacterial infections in hospital settings, where health care workers are most prone to antibiotic-resistant  bacteria.” 

While it is false to say people are developing pneumonia from simply breathing into their own masks, experts have advised people to ensure they regularly clean their non-medial face coverings in order to avoid contamination (here) . The World Health Organisation, for instance, says sweat can make a mask wetter in a shorter amount of time, and can promote the growth of microorganisms (here).

Research into the effectiveness of masks is still relatively sparse but a systematic review of distancing measures, masks and eye protection across 172 studies was published in The Lancet medical journal in June and found that a combination of the three could help to protect against transmission of three diseases caused by coronaviruses – COVID-19, SARS and MERS (here). The research found that masks, specifically, could have protective benefits, but that more research is necessary (here).


False. There is no evidence of people being admitted to ICUs because of pneumonia strains that have been directly linked to wearing face masks. Neither is there evidence that face masks are causing people to develop pneumonia from breathing in their own recirculated air.

Read more about our work to fact-check social media posts here .