Who is that masked...college student?

Researchers Allison Aiello and colleagues at the University of Michigan just published a study in the February issue of JID that assessed the benefit of (a) face masks or (b) face masks + hand hygiene vs. (c) control in preventing ILI in college residence halls (dorms) during the 2006-7 flu season. Each group (cluster) consisted of either one very large hall or a combination of 3 smaller halls (2 groups) for a total of 7 randomized halls. 1297 students were included in the study. Interestingly, spring break occurred during the study period which may have impacted the results. To bad the analysis couldn't tell us whether heading to the beach or skiing reduced the risk of influenza. In any case, they reported significant reductions in ILI in the mask+hand hygiene group during weeks 4-6 and in the mask only group during weeks 4-5 after influenza was first detected on campus.

An accompanying editorial by Titus Daniels and Tom Talbot, both at Vanderbilt, places the new findings in the context of the recent H1N1 'pandemic' and the N95 respirator debate. Importantly they suggest that the benefits seen in both face mask arms of the study may have been secondary to reduced viral shedding from infected mask wearers. They are correct to point out that the Michigan study supports the benefits of hand hygiene and it was also great to see them re-emphasize the importance of annual vaccination, particularly in health care workers, staying home when sick and compliance with proper respiratory etiquette.

Note: Both the article and editorial full-texts are available for free on the JID website; which is very nice for all who don't have a personal or university-based subscription.


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