Simple Steps Can Prevent Household Spread of Influenza

Prompt hand hygiene and use of face masks may reduce transmission risk
By Rick Ansorge
HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, Aug. 4 (HealthDay News) -- In households where a member has been infected with influenza, virus transmission is significantly less likely when all household members practice rigorous hand washing and wear surgical masks soon after the sick member develops influenza symptoms, according to a study published online Aug. 4 in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Benjamin J. Cowling, Ph.D., of the University of Hong Kong, and colleagues randomly assigned 259 households with a member who tested positive for influenza A or B virus to either practice hand hygiene, practice hand hygiene and wear surgical masks, or receive lifestyle education.

Seven days after the intervention, the researchers observed virus transmission in 60 (8 percent) of the household contacts. Compared to lifestyle education, they found that hand hygiene alone or hand hygiene plus masks were associated with a non-statistically significant reduction in virus transmission. In the 154 households that began the interventions within 36 hours of symptom onset in the index patient, however, they found that virus transmission was significantly reduced in households that practiced hand hygiene and wore masks (odds ratio, 0.33).

"During a pandemic, resources may not be available to isolate all infected individuals, and home isolation of some patients may be required," the authors conclude. "Our results directly inform the personal protective measures that should be taken in such a scenario. Our results also support the use of these nonpharmaceutical interventions in public health control measures against interpandemic influenza in annual epidemics."

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