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Handwashing, Masks Beat Drugs at Fighting Flu

Data review finds they're best at keeping individuals safe

THURSDAY, Nov. 29 (HealthDay News) -- When it comes to fighting the spread of influenza and other respiratory viruses, physical barrier measures -- such as handwashing and wearing masks, gloves and gowns -- may be more effective than drugs.

That's the conclusion of new research by experts who reviewed 51 published studies on the topic.

While many nations are stockpiling antiviral drugs to prepare for a possible future flu pandemic, there's increasing evidence that such drugs and vaccines won't be sufficient to block the spread of a major outbreak, noted a team led by Chris Del Mar of the faculty of health sciences and medicine at Bond University, Gold Coast, Australia.

On the other hand, there's clear evidence of a link between personal and environmental hygiene and infections, the researchers said. However, until now, there haven't been any comprehensive reviews of this evidence.

The studies examined by the review authors compared interventions to prevent viral animal-to-human or human-to-human transmission of respiratory viruses -- isolation, quarantine, social distancing, barriers, personal protection and hygiene -- to other kinds of interventions or to doing nothing. These studies did not include antiviral drugs or vaccines.

Handwashing and wearing masks, gloves and gowns were effective individually in preventing the spread of respiratory viruses, and were even more effective when all three were used in combination, the review authors found. Combining these measures may be more effective than antiviral drugs in fighting a pandemic, they said.

The review was published online Wednesday in the British Medical Journal.

More information

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has more about personal protective equipment and influenza.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: British Medical Journal, news release, Nov. 28, 2007

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