ALLERGY, RESPIRATORY
Know Your Asthma Triggers
Keep Asthma, Allergies at Bay for the Holidays
Herbal Remedy Could Halt Peanut Allergy
ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE
Many Cancer Patients Turn to Complementary Medicine
Hypnosis Cuts Hot Flashes for Breast Cancer Survivors
Ginkgo No Shield Against Alzheimer's
ANIMAL CARE
Separation Anxiety, Canine-Style
Safe Toys for Dogs
Rest Easy. When It Comes to Swine Flu, Your Pet Is Safe
BONES & JOINTS
Studies Struggle to Gauge Glucosamine's Worth
In Elderly Women, Hip Fractures Often Follow Arm Breaks
Scientists ID New Genes Tied to Crohn's Disease
CANCER
Ginger Can Ease Nausea From Chemotherapy Treatments
Mineral May Reduce High-Risk Bladder Disease
Meditation May Reduce Stress in Breast Cancer Patients
CAREGIVING
Study of Everest Climbers Questions Oxygen Use
With Age Comes Greater Risk of Hypothermia
Organ Donation Policies Vary Among Children's Hospitals
CIRCULATORY SYSTEM
Health Tip: Are You Anemic?
High Blood Fat Levels Common in Americans
Vitamins Do Older Women Little Good
COSMETIC
Contact Lenses Boost Kids' Self-Image
Study Evaluates Laser Therapies for Hair Removal
What to Do If You Have Unsightly Veins
DENTAL, ORAL
A Sweet Way to Shield Baby's Teeth
Acupuncture May Ease Anxiety Over Dental Work
Rheumatoid Arthritis May Harm Gums
DIABETES
Out-of-Control Blood Sugar May Affect Memory
Diabetes Linked to Cognitive Problems
Arthritis Hits More Than Half of Diabetics
DIET, NUTRITION
Fasting on Alternate Days May Make Dieting Easier
The Raw Food Diet
Meat Additives May Be Dangerous for Kidney Patients
DISABILITIES
Could Your Cell Phone Help Shield You From Alzheimer's?
Review Finds Marijuana May Help MS Patients
ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH
Artificial Light Linked to Prostate Cancer Risk
Chemicals in Carpets, Non-Stick Pans Tied to Thyroid Disease
Most Mt. Everest Deaths Occur Near Summit During Descent
EYE CARE, VISION
Eye Problems, Hearing Loss May Be Linked
Protein Might One Day Prevent Blindness
High Temps Degrade Contact Lens Solution: Study
FITNESS
Simple Exercise Precautions To Help Keep Baby Boomers Fit
Exercise in Adolescence May Cut Risk of Deadly Brain Tumor
Keep Safety in Mind While Your Kids Are Cooling Off in the Water
GASTROINTESTINAL PROBLEMS
Soothing Imagery May Help Rid Some Kids of Stomach Pain
Peppermint Oil, Fiber Can Fight Irritable Bowel
Gum Chewing May Speed Colon Surgery Recovery
GENERAL HEALTH
Pay Attention to Signs That Say You're Too Fatigued to Drive
Want Sun Protection? Wear Red or Blue
Afternoon Nap Might Make You Smarter
HEAD & NECK
Zen May Thicken Brain, Thwart Pain
Ski Helmets Encouraged for All
Many Children Will Outgrow Headaches
HEALTH & TECHNOLOGY
The Internet Is Becoming One-Stop Shopping for Health Help
Combating Myths About Seasonal Allergies
'Cell Phone Elbow' -- A New Ill for the Wired Age
HEARING
Noise Hurts Men's Hearing More, Study Shows
Summer Sounds Can Lead to Hearing Loss
HEART & CARDIOVASCULAR
Quitting Smoking Doubles Survival in Early Stage Lung Cancer
Obese People Seem to Do Better With Heart Disease
Cocoa in Chocolate May Be Good for the Heart
INFECTIOUS DISEASE
Swine Flu Now Reported in All 50 States
Dry Weather Boosts Odds of Flu Outbreaks
Older Adults May Have Some Immunity to Swine Flu
INFERTILITY
Obesity May Affect Fertility in Young Womene
KID'S HEALTH
Stomach Germ May Protect Against Asthma
Treat Kids to a Safe Halloween
Soothing Imagery May Help Rid Some Kids of Stomach Pain
MEN'S HEALTH
More Vitamin C May Mean Less Chance of Gout
Countdown to Hair Loss
Low Iron Levels Cut Cancer Risk in Men With PAD
MENTAL HEALTH
Love Hormone May Ease Discussion of Painful Topics
Have a Goal in Life? You Might Live Longer
Fear Response May Stem From Protein in Brain
PAIN
Acupuncture, Real or Fake, Eases Back Pain
Alleviating Rheumatoid Arthritis
'Cell Phone Elbow' -- A New Ill for the Wired Age
PHYSICAL THERAPY
PREGNANCY
Acupuncture May Relieve Acid Indigestation In Pregnancy
Alternative Treatments May Boost IVF Success
Pregnant Women Exposed To Certain Pollutants Could Lower Childs IQ
SENIORS
Life Expectancy in U.S. Hits New High
Keeping Mentally Active Seems To Keep The Brain Active
Boost In Elderly Population Will Be Felt Worldwide
SEXUAL HEALTH
SLEEP DISORDERS
6 to 8 Hours of Shut-Eye Is Optimal for Health
Daylight Savings: Not a Bright Time for All
Pay Attention to Signs That Say You're Too Fatigued to Drive
WOMEN'S HEALTH
Flame-Retardant Chemical Linked to Conception Problems
A Brisk Pace May Keep Stroke at Bay
Prenatal Stress May Boost Baby's Asthma Risk
Add your Article

Surgical Masks Could Prevent Flu, Maybe

MONDAY, Aug. 3 (HealthDay News) -- Experts are still debating the usefulness of wearing surgical face masks to ward off the flu, and the results of a new study aren't likely to clear up the confusion.

Researchers in Hong Kong found that wearing a surgical face mask along with copious hand washing can help keep transmission rates for the seasonal flu down, at least among members of the same household. But it's unclear how much the mask adds to the already-proven benefit of good hand hygiene.

Plus, the strategies only worked when started within 36 hours of the patient developing symptoms.

"Our study shows that face masks are useful in households when one person has influenza, to prevent transmission to other household members," said study author Benjamin Cowling, an assistant professor at the School of Public Health, The University of Hong Kong. "We did not study the use of face masks in other circumstances, for example for individuals trying to protect themselves against infection in other community settings."

According to Artealia Gilliard, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, current guidelines are unlikely to change based on the results of this study alone.

Those guidelines do not recommend the use of face masks in general, but can be "considered" for caregivers and if a novel H1N1 virus (such as the swine flu) appears in the community, Gilliard said. But the first line of defense would be to avoid high-risk situations and avoid being a caregiver.

"The best thing is to still listen to your local health department," said Dr. Scott R. Lillibridge, assistant dean at the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Rural Public Health in Houston and executive director of the National Center for Emergency Medical Preparedness and Response.

The CDC-funded study appears in the Aug. 4 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine, as does another study finding that the antiviral medications Tamiflu (oseltamivir) and Relenza (zanamivir) are effective for preventing symptoms of the seasonal flu in healthy adults.

Hundreds of thousands of people around the world die each year from the seasonal flu. And the recently arrived swine flu circling the globe has made the task of finding ways to prevent infection more urgent. Many fear the swine flu pandemic, still causing only relatively mild illness, will become more virulent in the fall.

The face mask and hand hygiene study involved 407 people arriving at one of 45 clinics in Hong Kong with flu-like symptoms and who had laboratory-confirmed influenza A or B. Also involved were 794 household members from 259 households.

The patients and their household contacts were randomized into three groups: a control group that received "lifestyle education" only; instruction in hand hygiene methods such as hand washing with soap or alcohol hand rub; and surgical face masks with hand hygiene.

Combined face masks plus hand hygiene helped prevent the spread of the virus, but the benefit was small and only when precautions were started within 36 hours of symptoms appearing.

It's clear that hand washing helps prevent spread of the flu, and CDC guidelines support the practice. It's less clear how much masks matter.

And there are many variables in face masks these authors didn't address, Lillibridge pointed out.

"There are a lot of issues about face masks that tend to increase their usefulness. One is training. The second is proper fitting. The third is a new generation of face masks which have fibers that are treated with anti-viral and anti-microbial particles that increase killing. Those three important issues weren't properly factored in in this study," he said.

"In our study we used surgical masks, which should be available over the counter in drugstores," Cowling said. "Another less common type of mask is the N95-style respirator, which has a much tighter seal on the face and is only really recommended for use in health-care settings in some situations. These masks work best if they are fit-tested."

The authors of the second study reviewed all available research on Tamiflu and Relenza, and concluded that healthy adults who took the drugs for four weeks or longer were less likely to be stricken with symptoms of flu, although the drugs did not prevent people from actually becoming infected with the virus.

"They prevent the newly formed viruses from leaving the infected cells but they don't prevent initial virus from getting into the body," said study author Dr. Nayer Khazeni, an instructor of medicine in the division of pulmonary and critical care medicine at Stanford University Medical Center.

The two drugs appeared to be equally effective, although patients taking Tamiflu experienced more nausea and vomiting, especially if given in higher-than-recommended doses.

Also, the authors noted, many groups have just never been studied in this context, including children under the age of 12, immune-compromised individuals and people who have received the nasal flu vaccine.

"Another finding was that all of the studies were sponsored by makers of the drugs, which is not surprising," Khazeni said. "They were good quality, but it's always nice to see an independent evaluation."

Although governments have stockpiled these two drugs to use during a pandemic, it's unclear what role the drugs play currently in the swine flu pandemic.

"It's not clear if there's a role for extended use of prophylactic medications," Khazeni said. "Some groups are targeted for extended-duration antiviral prophylaxis, such as high-risk groups and first-line health-care workers."

But these plans are for a more severe pandemic setting, she added.

Also, cases of seasonal flu and swine flu that are resistant to Tamiflu have been seen.

SOURCES: Benjamin Cowling, Ph.D., assistant professor, School of Public Health, The University of Hong Kong; Artealia Gilliard, spokeswoman, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta; Nayer Khazeni, M.D., instructor, medicine, division of pulmonary and critical care medicine, Stanford University Medical Center, Stanford, Calif.; Scott R. Lillibridge, M.D., assistant dean, Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Rural Public Health, Houston, and executive director, National Center for Emergency Medical Preparedness & Response; Aug. 4, 2009, Annals of Internal Medicine