ALLERGY, RESPIRATORY
Using Music and Sports to Improve Kids' Asthma
Climate Change Could Sting Allergy, Asthma Sufferers
Keep Asthma, Allergies at Bay for the Holidays
ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE
Spot light on Dani Antman New Lionheart teacher
Fish Oil's Benefits Remain Elusive
Higher Vitamin D Intake Could Cut Cancer Risk
ANIMAL CARE
Beware of Dog Bites
Separation Anxiety, Canine-Style
Rest Easy. When It Comes to Swine Flu, Your Pet Is Safe
BONES & JOINTS
More Faces Being Spared in Motor Vehicle Accidents
Brazilian Mint Tea Naturally Good for Pain Relief
B Cells Can Act Alone in Autoimmune Diseases
CANCER
Scams and Shams That Prey on Cancer Patients
Occaisonal Dieting May Cut Breast Cancer, Study Says
More Cancer Tests Mean More False-Positive Results
CAREGIVING
Study Links Pesticides to Birth Defects
Falls Are Top Cause of Injury, Death Among Elderly
Injected Medication Errors a Major Problem
CIRCULATORY SYSTEM
Migraines in Pregnancy Boost Vascular Risks
Firefighters Have Narrower-Than-Normal Arteries, Study Finds
Review Confirms Links Between Diet, Heart Health
COSMETIC
With Psoriasis, the Internet May Offer Hope
New Genetic Links to Baldness Discovered
Wrinkle Fillers Need Better Label Warnings: FDA Panel
DENTAL, ORAL
Sports Drinks May Be Tough on Teeth
Health Tip: At Risk for Gingivitis
Gummy Bears Join Cavity Fight
DIABETES
Chamomile Tea May Ward Off Diabetes Damage
Out-of-Control Blood Sugar May Affect Memory
Saliva Test Could Monitor Type 2 Diabetes
DIET, NUTRITION
Just Say No to Nuts During Pregnancy
Probiotics Are The Good Guys
Antioxidants Abound in Cereals, Popcorn, Whole-Grain Snacks
DISABILITIES
Could Your Cell Phone Help Shield You From Alzheimer's?
Review Finds Marijuana May Help MS Patients
ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH
Gene Explains How High-Fructose Diets Lead to Insulin Resistance
What's Cookin'? It Could Be Air Pollution
Freckles, Moles May Indicate Risk for Eye Cancer
EYE CARE, VISION
Half of U.S. Adults Lack 20/20 Vision
Glaucoma Associated With Reading Impairments in Elderly
Thyroid Problems Boost Glaucoma Risk
FITNESS
School Phys. Ed. Injuries Up 150 Percent
Fitness Fades Fast After 45
Weak Muscles May Cause 'Runner's Knee'
GASTROINTESTINAL PROBLEMS
Gum Chewing May Speed Colon Surgery Recovery
Olive Oil May Protect Against Bowel Disease
Soothing Imagery May Help Rid Some Kids of Stomach Pain
GENERAL HEALTH
The Yearly Flu Shot Debate
Adults Need To Get Thier Food Facts Straight
Vinegar Might Help Keep Off Pounds
HEAD & NECK
Many Children Will Outgrow Headaches
Zen May Thicken Brain, Thwart Pain
Ski Helmets Encouraged for All
HEALTH & TECHNOLOGY
Using Light Therapy to Silence Harmful Brain Activity
Imaging Sheds Light on How Acupuncture Works
Airport Full Body Scanners Pose No Health Threat: Experts
HEARING
Noise Hurts Men's Hearing More, Study Shows
Summer Sounds Can Lead to Hearing Loss
HEART & CARDIOVASCULAR
Fructose Boosts Blood Pressure, Studies Find
Fatty Fish May Cut Heart Failure Risk in Men
Fish Oil Supplements Help With Heart Failure
INFECTIOUS DISEASE
Poor Restroom Cleaning Causes Cruise-Ship Sickness
Bacterial Infections May Succumb to Honey
Swine Flu Closes Three Schools in NYC
INFERTILITY
Obesity May Affect Fertility in Young Womene
KID'S HEALTH
Coconut Oil May Help Fight Childhood Pneumonia
Standard IQ Test May Underestimate People With Autism
Even Young Kids Can Learn CPR
MEN'S HEALTH
Low Iron Levels Cut Cancer Risk in Men With PAD
Strenuous Daily Workout May Keep Cancer at Bay
Countdown to Hair Loss
MENTAL HEALTH
Drink Away Dementia?
Keeping a Healthy Holiday Balance
Cinnamon Breaks Up Brain Plaques, May Hold Key to Fighting Alzheimer’s
PAIN
Are We Exercising Pain Away? Not So Much.
Tai Chi May Help Ease Fibromyalgia
'Cell Phone Elbow' -- A New Ill for the Wired Age
PHYSICAL THERAPY
PREGNANCY
Calcium Supplements Cut Blood Lead Levels During Pregnancy
Mom's Extra Pregnancy Pounds May Raise Child's Heart Risks
Breast-Feeding Benefits Moms and Babies
SENIORS
Boost In Elderly Population Will Be Felt Worldwide
Mediterranean Diet Plus Exercise Lowers Alzheimer's Risk
Exercise Helps Reduce Falls in Young and Old
SEXUAL HEALTH
SLEEP DISORDERS
Lose Weight, Sleep Apnea May Improve
Exercising Throat Muscles May Relieve Sleep Apnea
Better Sleep, Grades Seem to Go Up
WOMEN'S HEALTH
Calcium Helps Ward Off Colon Cancer
Sleeping Could Help Women Lose The Baby Fat
Acupuncture May Help Relieve Polycystic Ovary Syndrome
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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