1. Section Editor(s): Kennedy, Maureen Shawn MA, RN

Article Content

Handwashing and wearing masks, gloves, and gowns slow the spread of influenza and other respiratory viruses. According to two reports, a number of simple, inexpensive interventions are effective in slowing the spread of respiratory viruses, although current public health guidelines neglect these measures, favoring vaccines and antiviral drugs. The first study, published online in the September 21 BMJ, is an update of a 2007 Cochrane review of four decades' worth of research. It shows that one way to stop the spread of respiratory viruses is to teach handwashing and personal hygiene to young children at school. In the hospital setting, washing hands more than 10 times daily and wearing masks, gloves, and gowns are effective when done separately and even more effective when combined. And more expensive N95 masks may be no better at blocking viruses than simpler surgical masks, although high-quality research on the subject is scant. Masks (especially N95 respirators) and gloves often cause acne, itching, dry skin, and rashes, which limits compliance with a barrier protocol that includes their use. The second study, in the October 5 JAMA, sheds a little more light on the issue; among hospital nurses, N95 respirators and surgical masks offered comparable protection against influenza. During the 2008-2009 flu season, 24% who wore surgical masks and 23% who wore N95 masks became infected, and compliance was better in those wearing surgical masks.