Study finds face masks and hand hygiene can help limit influenza's spread

Jan 21, 2010

Ordinary face masks and hand hygiene can effectively reduce the transmission of influenza-like illness during flu season. The finding comes from a new study, now available online, published in the Feb. 15 issue of the Journal of Infectious Diseases. In an influenza pandemic, vaccination may not be initially available, and antiviral prescribing may be limited, which is why scientists need to understand how effective other measures are in preventing influenza.

For the study, researchers from the University of Michigan School of Public Health, led by Allison E. Aiello, PhD, recruited more than 1,400 college students living in university residence halls during the 2006-2007 influenza season. Participants were 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. Students were monitored for influenza-like symptoms for six weeks. All participants viewed a basic instructional video. Subjects in the hand hygiene and mask group were given an alcohol-based hand sanitizer and written instructions regarding proper face mask and hand sanitizer use. Those in the mask group received written instructions on face mask use only. The students began using the measures just after laboratory confirmation of influenza on the University of Michigan campus had been made.

The investigators observed 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, Dr. Aiello and researchers found a reduction of influenza-like symptoms ranging from 35 to 51 percent 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, suggesting that the use of did not substantially contribute to reducing symptoms.

The findings "have implications for guidelines and recommendations for mask use in the community setting," the authors wrote. Mask use during this study was proven to have a protective effect even when worn moderately during the day. Additionally, the use of face masks and hand hygiene may reduce respiratory illnesses in community settings and lessen the impact of the H1N1 pandemic, the authors noted.

An accompanying editorial agreed with the researchers and suggested that use of a face mask and hand hygiene can be effective in reducing transmission of influenza and influenza-like illness. The editorial's lead author, Titus Daniels, MD, MPH, of Vanderbilt University, pointed out that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) currently recommends the use of a only for individuals at increased risk for influenza or where H1N1 is circulating in the community setting. "These data can inform policymakers on the recommendations for mask use in the community and perhaps other settings," such as health care institutions, the editorial said.

Explore further: Decoding a killer: Lab studying Ebola virus for mutation threat

More information: http://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/abs/10.1086/650396

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Unmasked and vulnerable

Jan 26, 2009

Donning a face mask is an easy way to boost protection from severe respiratory illnesses such as influenza and SARS, new research from the University of New South Wales (UNSW) has found, but convincing a reluctant public ...

Recommended for you

Routines most vital in avoiding Ebola infection: WHO

4 hours ago

Meticulously following stringent routines when putting on and removing protective equipment is more important than the kind of gear health care workers use to ward off Ebola infection, the World Health Organization said Friday.

A look at latest Ebola developments

5 hours ago

No African countries are on the United Nations list of contributors to fight Ebola. With few exceptions, African governments and institutions are offering only marginal support as the continent faces its ...

Liberia opens one of largest Ebola treatment centers

5 hours ago

Remembering those who have died in the world's deadliest Ebola outbreak, Liberia's president opened one of the country's largest Ebola treatment centers in Monrovia on Friday amid hopes that the disease is ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.