• NHS pandemic flu leaflet misses the mark on mask protection

    by  • April 30, 2009 • Flu • 0 Comments

    The following is a quote from Important Information About Swine Flu an NHS pandemic flu leaflet which should be coming through your door one day soon.

    You may have seen face masks being given out to the public in other countries on the news. However, the available scientific evidence shows that these basic face masks don’t protect people from becoming infected.

    The best way to protect yourself and stop the spread of flu viruses is by using and disposing of tissues and washing your hands, as explained on the previous page.

    Remember to CATCH IT, BIN IT, KILL IT.

    However, some relatively new research published in the CDC Journal of Emerging Infectious Diseases appears to contradict the NHS statement about protection from masks.

    In a world-first clinical trial of the efficacy of masks, researchers found adult mask wearers in the home were four times more likely than non-wearers to be protected against respiratory viruses, including the common cold.

    The findings – published recently in Emerging Infectious Diseases, the journal of the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention – have global implications and are particularly relevant to efforts to combat the spread of flu pandemics and other emerging respiratory diseases such as SARS.

    The study is the first randomised controlled clinical trial of masks to be conducted internationally. Researchers at UNSW, Sydney’s Westmead Hospital, Imperial College (London) and the National Centre for Immunisation Research studied more than 280 adults in 143 families in Sydney during the winter seasons of 2006 and 2007.

    The full paper about flu mask effectiveness is available here. There is a less technical article about the flu mask effectiveness study here. There is even a video from one of the researchers involved, Professor Raina MacIntyre.

    There is even technical evidence (measured from mask performance in a lab, rather than in actual use around infections) that masks you can make at home provide some degree of protection.

    Please make an assessment of the situation and pass this on if you think it is important.

    Flu Code is a public health initiative which recommends the use of masks and other non-pharmacutical responses to pandemic flu. Please check it out.

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    Vinay Gupta is a consultant on disaster relief and risk management.


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