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January 23, 2010

Hand hygiene, masks can reduce influenza spread

The spread of influenza-like illness during flu season can be controlled to an extent with ordinary face masks and hand hygiene, a new study

Researchers from the University of Michigan School of Public Health, checked on more than 1,400 college students living in university residence halls during the 2006-2007 influenza season, as part of the research.

They were divided into three groups, one who wore face masks, others who wore masks and used alcohol-based hand sanitizer, and a control group who received no intervention.

A basic hand hygiene instructional video was shown to the participants. 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. Also, those in the mask group received written instructions on face mask use only.

After monitoring them for influenza-like symptoms for six weeks, the research team led by Allison E. Aiello, PhD, 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 hand sanitizer did not substantially contribute to reducing symptoms.

The authors concluded that the findings "have implications for guidelines and recommendations for mask use in the community setting." They further insisted that use of masks could lessen the impact of the H1N1 pandemic.

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