ANN ARBOR, Mich.---Wearing masks and using alcohol-based hand sanitizers may prevent the spread of flu symptoms by as much as 50 percent, a landmark new study suggests.
In a first-of-its-kind look at the efficacy of non-pharmaceutical interventions in controlling the spread of the flu virus in a community setting, researchers at the University of Michigan School of Public Health studied more than 1,000 student subjects from seven U-M residence halls during last year's flu season.
"The first-year results (2006-2007) indicate that mask use and alcohol-based hand sanitizer help reduce influenza- like illness rates, ranging from 10 to 50 percent over the study period," said Allison Aiello, co-principal investigator and assistant professor of epidemiology at the U-M SPH. Dr. Arnold Monto, professor of epidemiology, is also a principal investigator of the study.
Aiello stressed the first year of the two-year project, called M-Flu, was a very mild flu season and only a few cases were positive for flu, so results should be interpreted cautiously. Ongoing studies will test for other viruses that may be responsible for the influenza-like illness symptoms observed, she said.
"Nevertheless, these initial results are encouraging since masks and hand hygiene may be effective for preventing a range of respiratory illnesses," Aiello said.
If the pandemic is sufficiently lethal I would advise more radical measures such as working at home and taking other steps to hugely decrease your exposure to others. The masks and hand washing help those who go into public places in close contact with others. But staying away from people is the best protection. Wait for a vaccine to get developed before putting your life at risk. One way to keep the economy going and your income flowing during a pandemic is workplace cocooning. Groups of people could live and work together in quarantine zones.