We have a bit of good news for supporters of scruff: Beards, though likely covered in germs, are also probably not increasing your chances of getting and/or spreading COVID-19.
It’s a question that has sprouted up amid the coronavirus pandemic, partially thanks to an infographic from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that features guidelines for facial hair in extreme detail. But, as Thomas Russo, a doctor at the Buffalo VA Medical Center and the chief of infectious diseases at the State University of New York at Buffalo medical school told HuffPost, those guidelines are in place for medical professionals who have to wear N-95 masks.
“For healthcare providers, beards present a problem because getting a good, tight fit for N-95 masks is difficult,” Russo said. “Certainly, big fluffy beards are a big problem because unless they’re trimmed way back, you might not be able to get a good seal, making it not effective.”
While there is still much to be learned about the new virus, it is thought to largely be passed through respiratory droplets from person to person, for example by coughing or sneezing in close proximity to them. Russo points out that if you’re close enough to contract the virus from someone, you’re likely going to get it from proximity alone, beard or no beard.
“I can imagine that maybe the beard could collect a little bit of spit or something,” he said. But then a person they might infect “would have to be in really close contact, and that would make them at risk from all the other mechanisms.”
Of course, that doesn’t account for the other potential ways the virus may or may not spread, though evidence suggests that airborne transmission is much less common than getting it from a respiratory droplet or picking it up from an infected surface.
John Swartzberg, clinical professor emeritus at UC Berkeley’s School of Public Health who studies infectious diseases, was also hesitant to make any broad claims to The Los Angeles Times concerning beards and coronavirus, citing a lack of scientific evidence. He told the outlet that though “theoretically” coronavirus could perhaps be transmitted to a person or someone else through a beard, he knows of “no science to support what I’ve just said.”
There is, however, scientific literature on adjacent topics, as Lucy Wilson, a professor in the department of emergency health services at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, told HuffPost. Such studies mainly focus on bacteria, though, and not something like this virus.
“There are studies regarding beards actually showing decreased risk of bacteria from beards versus shaved areas in men,” she said. “I haven’t seen studies looking at viruses, but the theory is that the abrasions from shaving may increase risk of bacterial infection.”
The guidance remains ― as we’ve heard over and over again at this point ― to prioritize good hygiene and hand-washing.
“It’s reasonable to assume you could have droplets projected by someone sneezing or coughing into the beard,” Wilson said. “Touching your beard or face with unwashed hands would be a concern. It’s important to be careful with handwashing and decreasing surface contamination. Just like they say if you go to the store and come home it’s not unreasonable to take a shower, get the surface contamination off, that would include your facial hair.”
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