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H1N1 (Swine Flu): Face Masks And Hand Hygiene Reduces The Spread Of Respiratory Illness During Pandemic

One of the very positive aspects of the H1N1 pandemic is the sheer amount of research that has been done on communicable diseases and mitigation and prevention strategies.  A recent study published in The Journal of Infectious Diseases, noted that the use of face masks and hand hygiene may help reduce the spread of respiratory illnesses and may diminish the impact of the influenza A (H1N1) pandemic. The researchers cited that these findings were important because during an influenza pandemic because:

  • As we experienced in 2009 vaccines and/or antiviral medications may be limited or unavailable.
  • Simple measures such as hand hygiene and facemasks could have significant benefits in helping to stop the spread of disease.
  • Health care providers need to understand how effective other measures would be in preventing influenza so they can suggest appropriate and tested mitigation and prevention strategies.
The researchers recruited 1,437 college students who lived in on-campus residence halls for this study.

The students were randomly assigned to one of three groups: those who wore face masks, those who wore masks and used alcohol-based hand sanitizer or a control group who received no intervention. The study was conducted during the 2006-2007 influenza season. All students were monitored for influenza-like symptoms for six weeks.

  • The results demonstrated significant reductions in the incidence of influenza-like symptoms starting after three weeks in the hand sanitizer/mask group and in the mask group compared with the control group.
  • In the hand sanitizer/mask group, there was a reduction of influenza-like symptoms ranging from 35% to 51% when compared with the control group.
  • The incidence of symptoms between the hand sanitizer/mask group and the mask-only group were not statistically different, according to the researchers.

Aiello A, et al. J Infect Dis. 2010; 201:491-498.

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