Handwashing and facemasks 'may prevent flu transmission'

Individual measures such as washing hands and wearing a facemask could prevent household transmission of influenza virus, a study conducted in Hong Kong suggests.

Facemasks (Photograph: iStockPhoto)
Facemasks (Photograph: iStockPhoto)

By Joanne Ellul

Transmission was reduced in nearly six in 10 households in which these interventions were implemented within a day and a half of symptoms starting in patients with the virus. Intervention was only significant when interventions were applied early after the patient started to have symptoms, as infectiousness was highest at this point. Around 8% of household contacts had influenza in the seven days after intervention.

The study's researchers said that the varied adherence may have mitigated the effectiveness of the intervention. Only half of the influenza patients who used the facemask and washed their hands reported regular use of a surgical mask during follow-up.

Facemask adherence among those in the house with them was even lower. Regular hand washing was lower than recommended in health care settings.

The researchers said: ‘During a pandemic, resources may not be available to isolate all infected individuals, and home isolation of some patients may be required. Our results directly inform the personal protective measures that should be taken in such a scenario.'


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